Venezuelan police detain head of human rights group

Colombian soldiers patrol by boat on the Arauca River, at the border between Colombia and Venezuela, as seen from Arauquita, Colombia

Police arrested Javier Tarazona, director of Venezuelan human rights non-governmental group FundaRedes, two days after he held a news conference in Caracas alleging links between members of the government and illegal armed groups from Colombia.

He and three others were detained on Friday in the northwestern state of Falcon.

They were arrested after reporting on Friday morning to the state’s prosecutor that their team had been harassed by intelligence service officials and unidentified armed men had been waiting for him at his hotel, the organization said on Twitter.

“We demand that the integrity and life of these four people be respected, as well as the integrity and life of FundaRedes activists and volunteers,” said Clara Ramirez, FundaRedes’ documentation and human rights coordinator.

“It is alarming that the Venezuelan state maintains a policy of intimidation, threat and harassment against human rights defenders,” she said.

Authorities freed human rights activist Jhonny Romero in Coro after eight hours in detention, Caracas-based rights group Provea wrote on Twitter on Friday night. According to Romero, Tarazona and the other two men were believed to have been taken to the headquarters of Venezuela’s intelligence police, the SEBIN, in Caracas.

Venezuela’s information ministry and prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

FundaRedes has been the most active entity documenting and denouncing abuses by Colombian armed groups in border areas and their illegal trafficking and mining activities.

The group was the first organization in March to denounce fighting between the Venezuelan military and dissident groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas, which departed from peace accords signed in 2016, in remote parts of Apure state on the border with Colombia.

The group also denounced extrajudicial executions of civilians at the hands of Venezuelan police forces and the displacement of hundreds of inhabitants of Apure in search of refuge in Colombian territory.

This week Tarazona was at the headquarters of the prosecutor’s office in Caracas, to request that the alleged links between government officials and irregular armed groups be investigated.

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