WASHINGTON — Law enforcement forces in Venezuela have detained and tortured military personnel accused of plotting against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, according to two prominent human rights organizations.
Human Rights Watch and the Venezuelan non-governmental group Foro Penal said in a joint report released Wednesday that authorities in the South American country have also detained and tortured family members of some suspects in an effort to locate them.
The Associated Press asked the Ministry of Interior for a comment but did not get one immediately. The Venezuelan government has denied previous reports of tortures and said it properly protects human rights.
The report was released as international pressure is building on Maduro, who is preparing to be sworn in Thursday for a second, six-year term considered illegitimate by the U.S. and more than a dozen regional governments.
The report analyzed 12 cases from 2017 and 2018 that involve 32 people, including military officers of different ranks and civilians accused of plotting against the government, as well as family members of some suspects.
"The Venezuelan government has brutally cracked down on members of the military accused of plotting against it," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "In some cases they are also going after their families or other civilians when they can't find the suspects."
The report said members of the military intelligence or the political police carried out most of the arrests.
Detainees reported abuses such as brutal beatings, asphyxiation, cutting the soles of their feet with a razor blade, electric shocks, food deprivation, forbidding them to go to the bathroom and death threats.
Vivanco said the information in the report was gathered directly from detainees or their relatives. Researchers either asked questions over the phone to persons living in Venezuela or interviewed military officers and their families that had already left the country.
Also, lawyers from Foro Penal counseled some detainees in their court proceedings.
Both groups said the alleged abuses fit a pattern shown by the Venezuelan security agencies during the crackdown of street demonstrations in 2014 and 2017.
Since 2014, Human Rights Watch said it has documented more than 380 cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against government opponents or perceived opponents, including at least 31 cases of torture in Venezuela.
More than 12,800 people have been arrested since 2014 in connection with anti-government protests —including more than 800 civilians prosecuted by military courts since 2017— according to Foro Penal.
But the groups said no high-ranking official has been held accountable.
"Impunity for human rights crimes in Venezuela is deliberate," said Gonzalo Himiob Santome Foro Penal director.
The Prague-based CASLA Institute, headed by Venezuelan lawyer Tamara Suju, said last month she has brought before the U.N.'s International Criminal Court reports of 536 victims of torture in Venezuela since 2014, including 106 from 2018.
Six nations last year made the unprecedented move of asking the ICC to investigate Venezuela for possible crimes against humanity. Venezuela is among nine preliminary probes opened by the ICC prosecutors.
AP correspondents in Caracas Jorge Rueda and Fabiola Sanchez collaborated with this story.