Ousted Venezue­lan pros­e­cu­tor says she fears for her life

New Straits Times - - World -

CARACAS: Venezuela’s ousted chief pros­e­cu­tor said on Thurs­day she fears for her life and is on the run, but will keep fight­ing for democ­racy and free­dom in the coun­try af­ter be­ing fired by a con­tro­ver­sial new leg­isla­tive su­per­body.

Luisa Ortega, who broke with Pres­i­dent Nicolas Maduro in late March and be­came a vo­cal critic of his un­pop­u­lar left­ist gov­ern­ment, spoke to Reuters at a se­cret lo­ca­tion here af­ter be­ing fired by the con­stituent as­sem­bly on Satur­day.

The pro-gov­ern­ment Supreme Court had also said a trial could be­gin against her, but she had not been for­mally charged.

Still, the 59-year-old said she re­mained in hid­ing, mov­ing be­tween safe houses at least once a day, be­cause she feared be­ing ar­bi­trar­ily thrown in jail amid an in­creas­ing break­down of due process un­der Maduro.

“I do not know what dark in­ten­tions and dark plans they may have, not only to de­prive me of my free­dom, but also de­prive me of my life,” said Ortega, sit­ting on a sofa in a safe house.

“I’m be­ing per­ma­nently per­se­cuted. There’s al­ways a car fol­low­ing me, stop­ping where I stop, peo­ple tak­ing photos of me and the places I go.”

On Satur­day, Ortega’s of­fice was sur­rounded by gov­ern­ment troops and she was barred from en­ter­ing. She fled on the back of a mo­tor­cy­cle be­fore be­ing fired for­mally by the pro-gov­ern­ment con­stituent as­sem­bly on its first day of work. Crit­ics called the dis­missal an af­front to democ­racy.

Her fir­ing came as the Supreme Court stepped up the prose­cu­tion of op­po­si­tion politi­cians, amid anti-gov­ern­ment protests that are now en­ter­ing their fifth month. In re­cent weeks, the top court had jailed five op­po­si­tion may­ors in pro­ceed­ings that crit­ics said vi­o­lated ba­sic rights.

More than 120 peo­ple were killed dur­ing of­ten vi­o­lent un­rest against Maduro’s gov­ern­ment over a crip­pling eco­nomic cri­sis and what op­po­nents called Maduro’s in­creas­ingly author­i­tar­ian rule.

Of­fi­cials in Maduro’s gov­ern­ment had lev­elled a plethora of ac­cu­sa­tions against Ortega, from “in­san­ity” and en­cour­ag­ing “ter­ror­ists” — a word of­ten used by Maduro to de­scribe op­po­nents — to mis­us­ing a con­fis­cated plane.

Ortega was Venezuela’s chief pros­e­cu­tor for over a decade.

Her of­fice over­saw the 2014-15 trial of Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was sen­tenced to nearly 14 years for his role in na­tion­wide anti-gov­ern­ment un­rest in 2014.

The trial hinged on a heav­i­ly­dis­puted lin­guis­tic anal­y­sis that de­ter­mined Lopez had used sub­lim­i­nal mes­sages to urge vi­o­lence in speeches in which he called for peace.

Ortega’s pub­lic change of heart came in March when she con­demned the Supreme Court’s usurp­ing of pow­ers from the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Congress, a move that was quickly par­tially over­turned.

She went on to strongly de­nounce what she deemed vi­o­la­tions of human rights and ero­sion of democ­racy un­der Maduro, who was nar­rowly elected in 2013 to re­place the late Hugo Chavez.

In her last few weeks in the job, Ortega filed a flurry of in­dict­ments against top of­fi­cials re­gard­ing cor­rup­tion scan­dals and abuses dur­ing protests. It was not clear what would hap­pen with these now she no longer is in the job.

She said she was work­ing hard for the coun­try, hold­ing meet­ings with both Venezue­lan and for­eign pros­e­cu­tors as well as au­thor­i­ties in for­eign coun­tries, many of which have con­demned Maduro’s gov­ern­ment in re­cent months. She de­clined to spec­ify which coun­tries or ex­actly what that work en­tailed.

Maduro’s human rights om­buds­man, Tarek Saab, a gov­ern­ment ally who the op­po­si­tion said had turned a blind eye to state abuses, was cho­sen to re­place Ortega on Satur­day. Af­ter he was sworn in, Saab slammed Ortega for what he called her “com­plic­ity and in­ac­tion” in the face of the blood­shed dur­ing the protests in re­cent months. Reuters

Luisa Ortega

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