(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister, attorney general and parliament member, has been recognized for his work advocating for the freedom of political prisoners in Venezuela, in particular Leopoldo Lopez, a leader of one of the democratic parties opposing the current government.
Cotler received a Special Award by the Standing Committee on Foreign Policy, Sovereignty and Integration of the Venezuelan National Assembly citing his advocacy work.
Lopez, a pro-democracy activist and political leader, presented himself for arrest in Caracas in front of hundreds of thousands of supporters in February 2014 after being charged with a litany of offenses by the government for his opposition to the Marxist Venezuelan regime.
He was tried on charges of conspiracy, incitement to commit crimes, and public intimidation, among others, and sentenced to more than 13 years in jail in September 2015.
According to Cotler and his co-counsel Jared Genser, Lopez’s trial was deeply flawed with the judge rejecting all evidence proposed by the defense, including more than 60 witnesses, a dozen expert witnesses and 13 videos.
A month after his conviction, the main prosecutor of Lopez’s trial defected to the US and said he had been pressured to use false evidence against Lopez.
Following the conviction, the UN working group on arbitrary detention demanded his immediate release, saying his trial was marked by “serious irregularities,” and that “due process and fair trial were not respected; the basis of the allegations were not published; the accused was not allowed to exercise his right to an adequate defense; and the exculpatory evidence he offered was not accepted.”
Cotler also alleges that Lopez has been subjected to psychological torture during his imprisonment, as well as other forms of abuse including long-term solitary confinement – spending an estimated 142 hours of the 168-hour week alone.
In December 2015, the government led by President Nicolas Maduro was heavily defeated in elections to the National Assembly, with the opposition taking 112 seats to the government’s 55.
The National Assembly passed an amnesty law for political prisoners in March this year, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which has consistently backed Maduro, declared the law unconstitutional in April.
“Venezuela has one of the worst records on human rights for a self-declared democracy but has conducted an assault on the fundamental tenets of the rule of law, human rights and democracy itself,” Cotler told The Jerusalem Post.
“The government has persecuted and criminalized the democratic opposition, instituted censorship of the media, intimidates NGOs and rejected an amnesty law that was democratically adopted by the National Assembly, after which Maduro forced the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional.”