EspañolJohan and Joselyn Prato spent 67 days in jail for allegedly heckling Venezuelan Tourism Minister Marleny Contreras on a public beach. Contreras happens to be the wife of Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, and the second most powerful Chavista after President Nicolás Maduro.
On October 27, attorney Luis Betancourt announced that the plight of the Prato siblings had come to an end — for now. A judge has ordered their release from prison while they await trial.
#27O Ya en Libertad Joselyn y Johan Prato (Caso Cayo Sal) luego de 67 días presos. Nunca debieron estar presos! pic.twitter.com/ES2MrrkgzZ
— Foro Penal (@ForoPenal) October 28, 2015
“After 67 days, Joselyn and Johan Prato are now free. They should have never been in jail!”
Venezuelan authorities claim they detained the Pratos for physically and verbally assaulting Contreras at a beach in Falcón state on August 22. However, Betancourt and the Prato family maintain that the siblings never joined in on the large protest that took place that day. Furthermore, they claim there is no evidence to support the government’s accusations.
On the day in question, over 100 Venezuelans spontaneously gathered to demonstrate against Contreras. Hours later, Venezuelan police arrested five individuals, including the Pratos.
Betancourt, who also represents the prisoners-rights NGO Venezuelan Penal Forum, tells the PanAm Post that he filed a motion to challenge the judge’s decision for pretrial detention of his clients, which led to the Pratos’ release. Because the charges they face carry a maximum sentence of less than eight years, Venezuelan law allows the Pratos to await trial at home.
The lawyer also claims that prison guards assaulted his clients while they were in jail, and that the Attorney General’s Office did nothing to protect their basic rights.
The judge’s decision to release the Pratos did not surprise Betancourt, who believes Joselyn and Johan should have been never been imprisoned in the first place. “We are never surprised when something is done the way it should be. If justice is upheld, it won’t surprise us.”
Impunity and Human-Rights Violations
As for the alleged abuse while in prison, Joselyn testified during a preliminary hearing on October 23 that guards served her spaghetti with worms and rotten food to eat. Johan, for his part, says he feared for his life while in jail, and claims that some inmates tried to push him into knife fights with other prisoners, but he refused.
Betancourt told the court that neither prisoner received medical attention in jail, even though the police seriously injured Joselyn during her arrest.
“Joselyn still has a bruise on her cheekbone, a cut under her eye, and rectal bleeding, as a result of the beatings she endured from the officers who detained her,” Betancourt says. The lawyer plans to demand a full investigation into the individuals who fractured Joselyn’s arm. “Prosecutors have an obligation to indict those who beat up Joselyn and Johan,” he says.
Betancourt also says that the Coro prison where the Pratos were detained is run under very poor conditions. He has called for Venezuelan authorities to look into the “widespread allergy symptoms” that affect inmates’ health at the facility.
Discrimination against the Venezuelan Penal Forum
The defense attorney claims that the Prato family have been victims of threats and intimidation for choosing the Venezuelan Penal Forum as their defense team.
The prison guards, he says, told the siblings that they would never leave jail if the NGO represents them.
#28Oct Con la liberación de ayer de los hermanos Prato (caso Cayo Sal) quedan 74 personas presas por motivos políticos.
— Gonzalo Himiob S. (@HimiobSantome) October 28, 2015
“With the release of Josely and Johan Prato, there are now 74 political prisoners [in Venezuela].”
“We are not afraid of telling the truth, this encourage us to continue our work. The Venezuelan Penal Forum will keep fighting until all political prisoners in Venezuela are released,” Betancourt said.
According to the NGO, 74 individuals are still detained for political reasons in Venezuela. The Venezuelan Penal Forum also claims that since the anti-government protests of February 2014, the Maduro administration has detained 3,770 people for demonstrating, most of whom have been released.