HUMAN RIGHTS | Five years after her detention

Lawyer: Judge Afiuni has been professionally disabled

Venezuelan Judge María Lourdes Afiuni has been facing an administrative proceeding, which has resulted in the suspension of her salary so far. "Afiuni cannot resign, play her role as judge, or practice law. She has been banned from practicing, traveling abroad and, even worse, moving funds from her bank accounts or having credit cards," commented her brother, Nelson Afiuni Mora

Afiuni has been prohibited talking to the media or posting messages on social networks (File photo)
Saturday December 13, 2014  12:00 AM
On December 10, 2009, it only took 15 minutes for the life of Venezuelan Judge María Lourdes Afiuni to change its course. Her arrest upon granting conditional release to entrepreneur Eligio Cedeño following a UN resolution made history in the country. Afiuni has been the first judge convicted to a full sentence of 30 years in prison by the then president, Hugo Chávez, during a mandatory radio and TV broadcast. On this November 10, as the world celebrates Human Rights Day, it has been five years since Afiuni's case began, yet it is still in a "legal limbo."

"Today, I do not know what my reaction will be the minute they set me free from this (sort of) abduction. Yet I am sure that I am not going to waste the rest of my life seized by hatred or taking revenge," Afiuni said in an interview during her imprisonment (April 2010).

On June 14, 2013, upon a request filed by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, Judge Marilda Ríos granted conditional release to Afiuni due to her poor health condition. However, her family and counselors explained, Afiuni "continues abducted and professionally disabled."

"The criminal case brought against her on charges of corruption, abuse of power, and aid to evade justice has been suspended just like the disciplinary administrative case she has been facing. Furthermore, she has been banned from talking and posting messages via social networks, Twitter and Facebook. She has been precluded from practicing, traveling abroad and, even worse, moving funds from her bank accounts or having credit cards," commented her brother, Nelson Afiuni Mora.

Neither work nor salary

"The judge has been stripped of her right to work," claimed one of her defense counselors, Jesset García. He explained that Afiuni is facing, not only a criminal trial, expected to commence on December 10, but also an administrative case which has resulted in "the suspension of her salary."

García termed "illegal" the administrative proceedings brought against Afiuni, and remarked that the Code of Ethics on Venezuelan Judges provides for "suspension of salary" only. In fact, the lawyer explained, other judges under similar circumstances have regained all their rights. Afiuni is the only one whose salary has been frozen."

As part of her case, an inquiry into the performance of Afiuni as judge in her last five years has been ordered in an attempt to find any court-related inconsistencies, for instance, failing to comply with her work schedule or overruling lower court decisions.

"If you review the judgments of the 1,800 judges in Venezuela, you will find 1,800 inconsistencies. Judges have not been failing, but the system, which has been overloaded with files. Few personnel and lack of time has been critical in decisions on proceedings." 

Disciplinary trial scheduled for January 22

Afiuni's disciplinary trial has been repeatedly suspended. "On October 2, the hearing was put off after the Courts' Inspection Office requested Afiuni to disqualify me on grounds that I had worked for that institution and that I was familiar with her case, (the last of) which is not true." Additionally, "it violates Article 49 of the Constitution, which provides for the freedom of any individual to choose an independent lawyer."  

The hearing was then scheduled for November 11, but it was suspended to January 22 on the same grounds.

Translated by Jhean Cabrera