Ousted Venezuelan prosecutor says she fears for her life
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