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VENEZUELA: Human rights lawyer Engels Wladimir Puertas victim of arbitrary detention, torture, serious threats and criminalisation of his work

 22 September 2022

Engels Wladimir Puertas Ochoa is a lawyer and human rights defender. He is member of the legal team of the organisation „100% Estrógeno“, where he works defending cases related to gender, gender equality and gender identity. He also leads the organisation „Iniciativa por una Justicia Igualitaria“ (Initiative for Equal Justice), together with other lawyers of the organisation. For more than eight years, he has been representing students, human rights activists and victims of arbitrary detention and frame-ups (the falsification and production of incriminating evidence in court against a particular individual).

The Observatory has been informed of several risks and attacks suffered by the lawyer Engels Wladimir Puertas Ochoa from March 2011 until today, with an even higher frequency during the year 2021.

In the period between 2011 and 2016, the lawyer had already been victim of persecution, attacks, threats, harassment and has suffered 6 arbitrary detentions during which he was subjected to torture, isolation, psychological pressure and illegal deprivation of his liberty. According to his own statements, regional and national security bodies (the Intelligence Division of the Mérida State Police and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) were responsible for these arbitrary detentions, which took place in the context of peaceful protests for the rights of imprisoned students.

Since 6 October 2021, he has been threatened with arrest by order of the fourth judge of the criminal judicial circuit of the judicial district of the state of Mérida, following the instructions of the same institution president, lawyer Carla Gardenia Araque. According to the lawyer Gardenia, these threats are due to the multiple complaints he has filed with the competent authorities regarding acts of corruption in the judicial system of this city.

On the same day, during a hearing in the trial in which he is the defence lawyer, the Fourth Public Prosecutor of the Judicial District of the State of Mérida threatened and physically assaulted Engels Puertas and part of his team, ordering his detention in the facilities of the Judicial Criminal Circuit of the State of Mérida.

Engels Puertas is currently out of Venezuela because he has received serious threats of arrest for the legitimate practice of his profession and for denouncing the lack of transparency in the Venezuelan judicial system.

 

The Observatory is concerned about these acts of intimidation which endanger the free and independent practice of law, as well as victims‘ effective access to justice.

The Observatory strongly condemns the attacks on lawyer Engels Wladimir Puertas and calls on the Venezuelan authorities to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of such acts.

The Observatory calls on the Venezuelan authorities to ensure that all attacks against lawyer Engels Wladimir Puertas and other human rights lawyers in Venezuela cease.

The Observatory recalls that the independence of the legal profession is one of the main indicators of democratic health and the consolidation of the rule of law. This is in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular principles 16, 17 and 18 :

Principle 16: “ Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference;  (…)“

Principle 17: „Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.”

Principle 18: „Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients‘ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”