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Isaias Rodriguez

According to Venezuela’s Attorney General, Isaias Rodriguez, a statement released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on April 5th, protesting the investigation of Venezuelan human rights lawyer Carlos Ayala Corao, constitutes a "severe interference in the internal affairs of the country" and "disrespect of the state."

In an official communiqué sent to HRW, Rodriguez stated that Ayala was "merely being investigated" in connection with the events of the April 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and has yet to be charged with a crime.

Ayala, head of the nongovernmental Andean Commission of Jurists and a former president of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, was summoned to appear before a prosecutor on Tuesday in order to be notified of the opening of the investigation. However, his case was postponed without explanation and he has been ordered to reappear in court next week.

On April 11th, 2002, Chávez was briefly ousted in a coup d’état, the Constitution was suspended and all democratic institutions were dissolved. Due to a combination of a factors including popular support, loyal factions in the military, sheer luck and poor planning on the part of the "interim government," he was restored to power. In addition to Human Rights Watch, several prominent national and international human rights organizations have demanded that the "judicial persecution of the distinguished human rights lawyer is halted immediately."

According to José Miguel Vivanco, the director of the Americas branch of Human Rights Watch, Ayala spent five hours negotiating for the release of pro-Chavez congressman Tarek William Saab during the coup, who had been detained by security personnel. More recently, Ayala participated in an investigation regarding the human rights situation in Venezuela conducted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Commission arrived at negative conclusions regarding the situation of human rights workers in Venezuela, leading Vivanco to believe that "this is a clear-cut case of political persecution, targeting someone who has been an effective critic of the Chavez government’s human rights record." The HRW director asserts that this case "would be rejected out-of-hand in any independent court of law."

Rodriguez has announced that in spite of the objections of Human Rights Watch or any other national or international organization, the investigation will proceed, affirming that "the Public Ministry does not carry out and will not carry out prosecutions of a political character, but rather those which are of a strict penal character and subject to the Constitution."

Rodriguez reaffirmed "that when a citizen is under investigation it does not necessarily mean that they will necessarily be accused..." He went on to add that, "if it turns out that the person did not have any responsibility in connection with the incident, the Attorney General’s office is obliged to issue a conclusive finding that exonerates the person".