Venezuela faces calls for probe after opposition activist dies in custody

The coffin containing Alban’s body was taken to the legislature, where it was placed in the garden and surrounded by politicians and relatives. (Reuters)
Updated 10 October 2018
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Venezuela faces calls for probe after opposition activist dies in custody

  • My father died fighting for democracy and freedom in Venezuela: son Fernando Alban
  • Alban asked to go to the restroom and threw himself from a window: Attorney General

CARACAS: Venezuela faced international calls Tuesday for a “transparent investigation” into the death in custody of an opposition member who the government said threw himself from a 10th-floor window of the headquarters of the state intelligence services.
Fernando Alban, a 52-year-old Caracas city council member accused of taking part in a failed drone attack on President Nicolas Maduro, was in pretrial detention Monday at the time of his death, which the government presented as a suicide.
Attorney General Tarek Saab said on state television that Alban, who had been arrested on Friday, asked to go to the restroom and threw himself from a window.
The death sparked expressions of concern by the United Nations and the European Union, both of which called for a probe.
The US embassy in Caracas said the death was “suspicious.” In August, the United States condemned alleged arbitrary detentions and forced confessions by the Venezuelan government in its investigation of the drone incident.
The coffin containing Alban’s body was taken to the legislature, where — wrapped in a yellow, blue and red Venezuelan flag — it was placed in the garden and surrounded by politicians and relatives. The mourners included Alban’s elderly parents and sister.
“My father died fighting for democracy and freedom in Venezuela,” his son Fernando wrote on Twitter.
The legislature is the seat of the opposition-majority national assembly but its power has been usurped by a new lawmaking body — the all-powerful Constituent Assembly created by Maduro and composed of his supporters.
Outraged opposition lawmakers nevertheless agreed a resolution recognizing the government’s “responsibility” for Alban’s death, and calling on the United Nations and the Organization of American States to designate “independent” experts to investigate.
Alban’s remains were later transferred to a chapel at the Central University of Venezuela, where he graduated as a lawyer.
The Maduro government has “an obligation to ensure (Alban’s) safety, personal integrity and dignity,” a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters.
“We are concerned about news of his death... We do indeed call for a transparent investigation to clarify the circumstances of his death,” she added.
In a statement, the European Union also demanded “a thorough and independent investigation” to clarify the circumstances of Alban’s “tragic death.”
“The EU reiterates its call to the Venezuelan government to release all political prisoners,” added EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic.
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, wrote on Twitter that Alban’s death was “the direct responsibility of a torturing and murdering regime.”
Alban’s party, First Justice, blamed the government for the death.
“We hold Maduro and his regime of torture responsible,” it said in a statement.
Alban was among at least 15 people arrested and charged for alleged participation in the August 4 drone incident which Maduro has portrayed as an assassination attempt.
The Venezuelan president was seen reacting on live television to an off-camera explosion while he addressed a military parade in Caracas.
A second explosion was heard and then the assembled troops were seen breaking formation and scattering in panic.
Maduro said the blasts were from explosives-laden drones sent to assassinate him, though opposition figures accuse Maduro of fabricating the incident to step up repression in his country, which is suffering an economic crisis.
Maduro has blamed the drone attack on First Justice founder Julio Borges, who now lives in exile in Colombia.
“Murderers!” Borges said on Twitter. The “cruelty of the dictatorship ended the life of Alban.”
The attorney general promised a thorough investigation.
The visiting US chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, said on Twitter that the government had a “responsibility to ensure all understand how that could have happened.”
Alban had traveled to New York last week to visit his children and accompanied Borges to the United Nations. He was arrested on his return to Caracas.
Late Monday, dozens of people with candles held a vigil outside the headquarters of the intelligence service, known as the Sebin, to protest the death.
“This is not suicide, this is homicide,” protesters shouted at guards.
Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, also a First Justice member, said the Maduro government was responsible.
“Those of us who knew Fernando know that he could NEVER have acted against his life,” he said on Twitter.
The city councilman’s lawyer, Joel Garcia, told reporters it was too soon to confirm whether the case was a suicide.
The Catholic church, an outspoken critic of the government, has also questioned the official version of his death. The Caracas archdiocese said in a statement Alban had been “serene and calm” and planning social work projects for the poor on Sunday before his arrest.
Interior and Justice Minister General Nestor Reverol lamented the death of the politician who, he said, was “involved in destabilizing acts directed from abroad.”
Venezuela accuses its neighbor Colombia of shielding the authors of the alleged assassination attempt.


Germany to discuss lifting ban on deporting Syrians

Updated 38 min 50 sec ago
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Germany to discuss lifting ban on deporting Syrians

  • Interior minister expected to discuss issue in meeting at end of November
  • Anti-immigrant parties have been demanding changes in deportation policy

DUBAI: In a sign that Germany's conservative political parties may tighten immigration rules, the government has said it is considering whether to allow the deportation of some Syrian asylum seekers back to their home country.

The interior ministry said on Friday it is examining whether Syrian refugees who commit crimes or support terror organizations should be deported back to Syria, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Such deportations are currently banned.

Germany is currently governed by a coalition of three parties - the conservative CDU/CSU and the SPD.

Horst Seehofer, Germany's interior minister, and his counterparts in Germany's 16 states are set to discuss how to deal with refugees who commit crimes at a meeting at the end of November, the Wall Street Journal report said.

Among the issues to be addressed will be whether to end or extend the deportation ban for Syrians after it expires at the end of December.

"If the security situation permits, it should be possible to deport (to Syria) criminals or people who pose a terror-related risk," Roland Woller, interior minister of Saxony state, told a group of regional dailies on Friday.

Woller's statement came after a similar argument by Joachim Herrmann, his counterpart in Bavaria, in an interview this week, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Merkel, 64, announced late last month she will relinquish chairmanship of the conservative CDU next month, and will not run again for the country's top post in 2021, or any political office.

Merkel, who has led the CDU for 18 years and Germany for 13, said her decision was aimed at giving her party the opportunity "to get ready for the time after me".

Far-right politicians began demanding changes in the deportation policy since Merkel's announcement.

Most Syrians in Germany are treated as war refugees rather than victims of persecution, meaning that they get a renewable one-year visa and are not entitled to bring family members to Germany.

However, Syrians who choose to return home face daunting prospects: large expanses of the country have been reduced to rubble and the economy is a shambles.

Those considering gone home are also discouraged by reports of returnees being targeted by militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Since Germany allowed in 2015 hundreds of thousands of migrants to enter the country, most Syrians who have sought asylum in the country have been granted protection.

While Afghans, Iraqis and other refugees who commit serious crimes or become identified as terror suspects can be deported, Syrians who have not been granted asylum remain exempt, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

According to an explainer in the German news website DW, because non-Germans must have some kind of residency permit to be allowed to stay in Germany, refugees and asylum seekers are issued with temporary permits while their applications are being considered.

If they have had their asylum applications turned down, they no longer have the right to stay in Germany, and are obligated to leave the country by a set deadline (no longer than six months).

If that deadline has passed, they may be forcibly deported to their country of origin, the DW report says.

People whose residency permits have expired, or have not had it extended by authorities, are also subject to deportation. The same is true of non-Germans who have been convicted of a crime.

But there are different rules depending on the severity of the crime. anyone sentenced to at least three years in prison must be deported, but in the case of people who have been sentenced to less severe crimes, or are simply deemed a threat to public order and safety, the decision on whether to deport or not is up to the authority in question.