Venezuela to prosecute lawmakers who backed failed uprising

Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello speaks during a rally in support of the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 May 2019

Venezuela to prosecute lawmakers who backed failed uprising

  • Pence hinted that the United States could impose sanctions on the Venezuelan judges if they use the court as “a political tool for a regime that usurps democracy

CARACAS: Venezuela will prosecute seven lawmakers who backed last week’s failed uprising orchestrated by opposition leader Juan Guaido, the country’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, as Washington removed sanctions against Caracas’ sacked spy chief for backing the revolt.
The court, which announced the ruling in a statement, said it asked Attorney General Tarek William Saab to handle the “criminal investigation” into opposition deputies for “high treason” and “conspiracy.”
Soon after the announcement the Constituent Assembly — which effectively acts as a regime rubber stamp — stripped the seven lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity.
“What comes now? A trial,” said Constituent Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, the regime’s second most powerful figure after President Nicolas Maduro.
Cabello ominously added that three unnamed other lawmakers had been identified and would undergo the same process.
The list includes Henry Ramos Allup, the former speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly — but not Guaido, its current head, recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by more than 50 countries.
In Washington, US Vice President Mike Pence kept up the pressure on President Nicolas Maduro’s shaken regime by announcing that sanctions against his sacked intelligence chief General Christopher Figuera were being lifted.
Pence, speaking at the State Department, said he hoped that Figuera’s defection would inspire other senior Venezuelans to break ranks with Maduro.
Washington “will consider sanctions relief for all those who step up for the constitution and support the rule of law,” Pence said.
“I hope the actions our nation is taking today will encourage others to follow the example of General Cristopher Figuera,” he said.

Pence hinted that the United States could impose sanctions on the Venezuelan judges if they use the court as “a political tool for a regime that usurps democracy, indicts political prisoners and promotes authoritarianism.”
“If the Supreme Court in Venezuela does not return to its constitutional mandate to uphold the rule of law, the United States of America will hold all 25 of its magistrates accountable for their actions,” Pence said.
In his speech, Pence also announced that a US Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will return to the area in June for a five-month mission aimed at assisting neighboring countries that are caring for some of the millions of Venezuelans who have fled their country’s crumbling economy.
The other lawmakers named on the Venezuelan Supreme Court prosecution list were Edgar Zambrano, Luis Florido, Marianela Magallanes, Simon Calzadilla, Americo De Grazia and Richard Blanco.
The Constituent Assembly has said it would suspend the immunity of any lawmakers who backed the April 30 uprising, which set off two days of violent clashes between security forces and protesters that left five people dead.
Dozens more were injured and more than 233 were arrested in the unrest.
Saab, the attorney general, has said separately that authorities have already issued 18 arrest warrants against “civilians and military plotters” following the April 30 uprising.
The international Contact Group on Venezuela, which met in Costa Rica’s capital San Jose on Tuesday, announced it would send a high-level mission to the crisis-wracked country to monitor humanitarian aid distribution and encourage dialogue.


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 14 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.