CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan security forces in recent years have detained and tortured dozens of military personnel accused of plotting against the government, and in some cases their family members, two human rights groups said in a report published on Wednesday.
The report by New York-based Human Rights Watch and Venezuela’s Penal Forum, which also says forces tortured civilians, comes as countries in the region are pushing the International Criminal Court to probe the government for alleged crimes against humanity.
The report, which documents several incidents that took place in 2018, suggests the government is concerned about the armed forces’ loyalty as an economic collapse prompts widespread migration and several countries warn they will not recognise President Nicolas Maduro after he is sworn in to a new term on Thursday.
The groups found 32 cases in which accused plotters detained by the intelligence service Sebin and military intelligence group DGCIM were subjected to beatings, asphyxiation and electric shocks to obtain details of alleged plots.
When authorities could not find the accused, they in some cases detained and abused family members to determine their whereabouts, the report says.
“The Venezuelan government has brutally cracked down on members of the military accused of plotting against it,” Human Rights Watch Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco said in a statement. “Not only are intelligence agents detaining and torturing members of the military, in some cases they are also going after their families or other civilians.”
In one case, the day before Maduro won re-election in a May 20, 2018 vote widely derided as a sham, armed officers without identification arrested Jose Marulanda, the partner of an army sergeant accused of conspiring against the government.
Marulanda said he was beaten so severely on the head in DGCIM headquarters that he lost hearing in his right ear, the groups said.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry, which handles media inquiries for the government, did not respond to a request for comment on the report. Maduro frequently accuses the United States and the right-wing government in neighbouring Colombia of plotting to overthrow him.
Officials also say rights groups play down violence committed by the opposition, including incidents such as setting a man on fire during a demonstration and police being targeted with explosives.
The two rights groups have previously accused Venezuela of torturing government opponents during protests in 2017, in which more than 120 people were killed.
More than 170 soldiers were detained for treason, rebellion and desertion in early 2018, compared with a total of 196 for all of 2017, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.
Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Bill Berkrot