On August, 12, the defense of Colombian businessman and accused money launderer of Nicolás Maduro, Alex Saab denounced the precarious conditions he is living in the cell in Cape Verde, in a public letter to that island nation President which leaked to the press.
“Without water, without light and with a small hole in which he must take care of his physiological needs,” is how Saab has been imprisonment since June 12, when he was arrested in Cape Verde on two Interpol alerts issued by the United States. That is how Spanish former judge Baltasar Garzon summarized the jail situation of Alex Saab.
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Garzon’s denouncements are similar to those frequently made by the lawyers of Venezuelan political prisoners: dark cells, precarious medical care, and other human rights violations that have also been documented by NGOs and twice reported (2019 and 2020) by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, including extrajudicial executions, torture, repression of peaceful demonstrations and even mass graves.
Although Saab is in prison in Cape Verde, a country located off the northwest coast of Africa, the conditions of his detention are very similar to those experienced by Venezuelan political prisoners, as the opposition lawmakers Gilber Caro and Juan Requesens.
What are the similarities between the case of Saab and the Venezuelan political prisoners?
- No light. Saab’s lawyer denounced that the alleged money launderer was in the dark 23 hours a day. The grave was the name he gave to the dungeon where the businessman is. And also, La Tumba, (the tomb), is what human rights activists and former prisoners call the prison inside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) where activists Lorent Saleh and Gerardo Carrero were detained.
- The grave. Saab is also located in a cell of two by two meters. In the case of the tomb, at the Sebin, space is 2X3 meters and five stories underground, without access to light or water in where Saleh and Carrero, they were under to prolonged isolation. In the report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, it was denounced that both leaders during their confinement suffered: nervous breakdown, panic attacks, joint pain, dermatitis, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Weight loss: In his 56 days of imprisonment in a Cape Verdean prison, the portly businessman has lost 20 kilos. The same situation is being experienced by elected lawmaker Gilber Caro, who is detaining in a Venezuelan jail since December 20, 2019. Caro is at the headquarters of the Special Action Forces (Faes). On July 27, Caro’s defense showed an image that shows the weight loss that the lawmaker has experienced. They also denounced that he is desperate because his conditions of confinement are subhuman, without food or water, and sleeping in the crawlspace under a stairway.
“The sister of the lawmaker entered on July 21 and was able to see that Gilber Caro, is in an advanced state of deterioration, due to the torture he is suffering. His gaze was of absolute desperation”, denounced Caro’s lawyer, Therelsy Malave, who asked the Public Ministry to verify the conditions in which the congressman is.
- Isolation: The Colombian businessman, as denounced by his lawyers, remains in isolation, must bathe with water from a bucket and relieve himself in a hole; relatives of the opposition lawmaker Juan Requesens denounced the same situation in Venezuela. On several occasions, Resquesen has been moved to another cell and has not been allowed visits. The case of Requesens, arrested in August 2018, accused of an alleged attempted assassination of Nicolas Maduro, became known after a video leaked showing the congressman with little clothing and full of excrement shortly after his arrest.
- Precarious medical attention. Saab’s defense argues that the government of Cape Verde has given the businessman poor medical care. The same denouncement has made by the Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal. Various other NGOs say the government of Maduro denied medical treatment to almost 400 political prisoners. They also fear that their conditions will worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On July 21, 2020, Foro Penal reported that the Maduro regime has 394 political prisoners, 59 more than the number in the NGO’s April report. In their report, they detailed that 268 of the prisoners are civilians, and 126 are military personnel. In terms of gender, they indicated that 364 are men and 30 women.
Both Cape Verde and Venezuela must guarantee respect for the human rights of those who are in detention while awaiting judicial proceedings. The Training Manual on Human Rights by the United Nations explains that prisons must guarantee decent conditions.
“Certain rights and freedoms are fundamental to human existence. They are intrinsic rights of every person by the mere fact of belonging to the human race and are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of every person. They are not privileges or perks granted by the grace of a leader or a government. Nor can they be suspended by arbitrary power. It cannot be denying or withdrawn because a person has committed a crime,” the manual states.