Venezuelan activist’s lawyers ask CoP for ‘raid’ details

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Yesenia Gonzales speaks at Adrian Cola Rienzi memorial forum on the topic migrant labour as an emerging challenge, held at the office of the member of parliament for couva south, Couva Main Road, Couva. Saturday June 16, 2023. – Roger Jacob

ATTORNEYS for Venezuelan activist Yesenia Gonzalez have written to the Commissioner of Police for details on a purported raid at her Mt Lambert home on January 4.

On January 9, attorneys Criston J Williams and Teriq Smith wrote to Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher asking for confirmation that the raid on Gonzalez’s home was carried out by the police.

The letter said Gonzalez was “subjected to violence” during the incident. The attorneys said while the four individuals who entered Gonzalez’s home and yard were presumed to be police, none of them identified themselves.

They asked her to verify the status of the four and provide their names and regimental numbers. If they are not police officers, then the attorneys asked for a manhunt to be initiated immediately for their arrest.

A photograph of two men was provided for verification.

The letter said one of the purported officers accosted Gonzalez at her window, asking if she had anything illegal in the house.

She then asked for a warrant and another person at the front gate waved a document. The letter said she cannot confirm if the document was a warrant.

As she tried to view the document, another individual allegedly told her they did not need a warrant and accused her of harbouring girls at her home, the letter said.

It also said the individual “exerted brute force” on Gonzalez by pushing her to the ground and kicking her while asking about the “girls” she was harbouring. The letter also said “officer 2” threated to kill her dog if she did not say where the girls were being kept, and a shot was discharged in the air.

A gun was also pressed hard against her head, leaving an impression, and she was hit on the head with it, the letter also said. The attorneys detailed further incidents of alleged abuse, taunts and an allegation that cocaine was found at the house.

The letter said Gonzalez was never arrested, nor were any girls or drugs found in the house, and the only items taken were some books from her office after the hour-and-a-half-long ordeal.

“She is utterly fearful for her life and no longer feels safe in the sanctity of her own home, no doubt compounded by leaving threats of ‘officer 3’ to the effect that they would return and kill her.”

The letter said Gonzalez tried to make a report to the St Joseph police station, but was told to go to the Police Complaints Authority, which she did, and also received medical care from the St Joseph enhanced health centre.

The attorneys said if the four were confirmed police officers, then they intend to report the incident to the special rapporteur on human rights defenders.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts who are responsible for monitoring specific human rights as part of a monitoring system established by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

The letter warned that the actions of the police, if confirmed, “have (stained) and will not only stain the reputation of this country but may have a repercussional effect.”

The police service was also accused of breaching her constitutional rights to protection. Apart from the “officers’” details, the letter asked for a copy of the search warrant, the beat and patrol register, station diary and pocket diary extracts, the firearm duty issue register and the officers’ discharge report, as well as any information relating to any alleged criminal investigation against Gonzalez which led to the incident on January 4.

“Should the status of the perpetrators as police officers be ascertained, they are to be immediately suspended pending the inquiry/investigation.”

The letter was copied to National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, director of the ministry’s counter trafficking unit, the Venezuelan ambassador to TT, the president of the UN Economic and Social Council, the UN’s special rapporteur and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The commissioner was given until January 17 to respond.

In a Facebook post on January 8, someone issued a statement on Gonzalez’s behalf, saying she was unable to speak for medical reasons and because of severe trauma.

“She is presently (sic) undergoing medical treatment, including taking prescribed medication, and is under the care of doctors who are closely monitoring her which further impedes her ability to communicate.”