Jailed Venezuelan students reported to be victims of torture by police agents

Two students being held by the Venezuelan police are being subjected to continual torture, according to their lawyer, their family and an international organization.

The students are Marco Aurelio Coello and Christian Holdack. The Human Rights Foundation said that the pair have been held in arbitrary detention since Feb. 12 for their participation in student demonstrations on Youth Day in Caracas. They are accused by the Venezuelan government of perpetrating the crimes that opposition leader Leopoldo López is charged with organizing, said the foundation.

Coello’s defense attorney and members of his family described in detail the methods used agents of the National Bolivarian Police to force the 18-year-old to confess to crimes he did not commit, said the foundation, adding:

Among other acts of torture, Coello was stripped down, wrapped in a rubber mat, and beaten repeatedly for hours with blunt objects, including fire extinguishers, baseball bats, and golf clubs. Coello received electric shocks on numerous occasions and he was threatened with execution several times while a gun was held to his head. He was also doused in gasoline as agents armed with lighters threatened to burn him alive. Christian Holdack was subjected to similar methods of torture.

The Human Rights Foundation said it strongly condemns the torture and gave this summary:

The Venezuelan government is accusing Coello and Holdack of perpetrating acts of violence that took place during a demonstration near Carabobo Park — including the burning of police cars and damage to a government office building. López is currently awaiting trial and is accused of organizing these same acts. All three individuals face charges of incitement to commit a crime, conspiracy, arson, and damages to public property. Coello and Holdack were part of a group of 16 students arrested on Feb. 12, during the student protests that were the first of numerous massive protests against the regime of Nicolás Maduro. Six young men were jailed, but four were released under measures alternative to pre-trial detention. Coello and Holdack remained imprisoned.

Recently, Coello’s family members have reported to the media that his mental health has suffered as a result of the physical and psychological trauma he has endured during his arrest and torture. According to two psychiatric evaluations performed by private and public institutions, Coello shows clear signs of acute post-traumatic stress disorder, including serious depression and suicide risk.

“The Venezuelan government knows that if they let these innocent young men go, they would also have to let Leopoldo López go, so they prefer to keep them in prison and torture them to extract false confessions. This must stop. The judge must release these students immediately in light of the complete lack of evidence against them,” said Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess champion who is now the foundation chairman. “Our hearts are with the families of these innocent young men and we will continue to document and denounce the government’s abuses,” he added in a release.

The preliminary hearing for Coello, Holdack, and López has been postponed on two occasions and one was set for Monday.

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