Relatives of a 33-year-old Venezuelan man with Barbadian heritage say they are at their wits end over his detention in a Caracas jail.
In fact, they claim Gregory Hinds, who was born in the Spanish-speaking country to a Barbadian father and a Venezuelan mother, and who his aunt said is a Barbadian citizen, is a political prisoner.
An emotional aunt, Orna Odwin, who lives here, told Barbados TODAY this afternoon that Hinds, the head of a non-governmental organization that works to empower young people in Caracas through community-based programmes, has been stripped of all his human rights ever since he was arrested and detained in January this year.
Odwin said Hinds, the executive director of Community Ambassadors Foundation in Caracas, has been accused by a judge of “public instigation and conspiracy” under Article 285 and 286 of the Venezuelan penal code. But she is adamant he has done nothing wrong.
“On Monday, February 5 after 5.00 p.m. more than 96 hours after his arbitrary detention and after hours of waiting [to be heard by a court], Gregory’s presentation hearing took place. The prosecutor of the public ministry acknowledged that the detention was arbitrary and instead of requesting the absolute nullity that corresponds according to the Venezuelan legal system, he invoked a sentence,” the disconsolate aunt explained.
She noted that three days earlier her nephew was transferred to the Palace of Justice to be presented before a court of ordinary criminal jurisdiction.
However, she said sometime after 8 p.m. the court decided to transfer him to the 31st Control Court of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of the metropolitan area of Caracas at the request of the prosecutor.
Explaining how the events unfolded, the family member charged that officials assigned to the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service – the Spanish acronym SEBIN – the country’s premier intelligence agency, presented themselves without a warrant on Wednesday January 31, 2018, and took Hinds to the office to answer their questions.
She said upon entering the office, the officials asked for his mobile phone, and he has been left without any means of communications since.
Odwin said around 5:00 p.m. on that same day the policemen invited Hinds to accompany them to the Caracas headquarters of SEBIN – a structure known as El Helicoide, which was designed in the early 1950s as a shopping mall but now houses the headquarters of Venezuela’s intelligence services and the country’s most notorious political prison – for the interview and to have him sign his statement.
“He voluntarily accepted the invitation without being told at the time that he was being detained,” the aunt said.
“On Thursday, February 1, already in El Helicoide and without being able to communicate with his mother, who is his only relative in Venezuela, nor with his trusted attorneys, the police informed him officially of his detention. Immediately, according to his testimony in court, he was placed in a cell known as Tigrito, which measures a maximum of two metres by two metres, without natural or artificial light,” she told Barbados TODAY.
Odwin said the officials did not provide Hinds with a source of potable water, “so he had to drink water out of the toilet”, she added.
According to her, Hinds was not allowed to go out in the sun and had to sleep on the floor next to a person who was detained for kidnapping and theft.
“This other inmate alleged that he had been sent to this cell as a punishment for attempting to stab another inmate. In addition, Gregory reported that this prisoner had been beaten and tortured with a belt,” the aunt recalled.
She remembered that when her nephew appeared before the judge he ordered him to report to the court every 15 days with two guarantors who earn at least 9.7 million Bolivares.
Venezuela has been operating two official rates for the bolivar, the DIPRO rate of ten to the dollar and the DICOM rate, set at auction, which stands at 3,345 bolívars to the dollar. But most Venezuelans use the black market rate of 235,782 bolívars to the dollar.
“In addition, although the crimes charged are less serious than crimes commonly imputed to political prisoners, such as terrorism, the judge requested the ordinary procedure to be followed in clear violation of the adjective criminal norm which establishes a special procedure for these types of crimes,” Odwin stated.
She said that Hinds’ defence attorneys opposed the claims of the prosecutor in accordance with the provisions of Venezuelan law and demanded his immediate and unrestricted release.
“They denounced the inhumane and degrading treatment and his conditions of detention, but regrettably, the court upheld the prosecutor’s claims against Gregory Hinds,” his aunt reported.
She said the attorneys presented the required guarantors’ documents for him to be released on bail, but is concerned that “experiences of the year 2017 suggest that the detention could last 15 to 30 days more”, adding that to date, her nephew remained in detention and all visitation rights have been cancelled.
“I don’t know what the options are. I am in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [here] daily and they have done everything they can do or trying to do to get Gregory released . . . but the Venezuelan authorities are not willing to release him yet or even to let basic human rights like the right to be represented or to have visitation,” she stressed.
Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here proved futile.