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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

First political prisoner was freed in Venezuela

HRF Report

HRF’s First Prisoner of Conscience Free on Conditional Release; Francisco Usón Joined His Family on Christmas Eve...

CARACAS, Venezuela -- At 7:30 p.m. on December 24, 2007 in Caracas, Venezuela, the Human Rights Foundation’s first political prisoner and prisoner of conscience, Francisco Usón, was freed by the judge presiding over appeals in his case.

“This is magnificent for Francisco Usón, for his family, and for all of us who oppose political persecution,” said Thor Halvorssen, HRF’s president. “Although the conditions of his release are outrageously severe he will be at home and away from a prison where his life was in constant danger.”

Usón, a retired army general and former cabinet minister in the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years of prison in a maximum security jail for having uttered a statement expressing concern for human rights. The comment Usón made was broadcast on television and was deemed “defamatory” of the armed forces of Venezuela. A full report about Usón’s case, including a four-minute video, can be found at www.CaracasNine.com.

In December of 2006, days after HRF began a campaign for Usón’s freedom which included legal letters to the Venezuelan government, President Chávez offered Usón a presidential pardon. Usón rejected the pardon on the basis of his innocence—he wanted complete exoneration, not a pardon provided for political expediency to prevent the government further international embarrassment. Usón declared last night, “I never felt guilty, which is why I never asked for forgiveness and why I did not accept the pardon.”

Usón told HRF that “this is only the beginning—working with HRF I will labor to free every last one of the political prisoners I left behind. Despite what we are living, nobody can control our consciences—we are a country of free men and women.”

The Venezuelan government has imprisoned numerous student dissidents, former military officers, and policemen, and has persecuted hundreds of dissenters through questionable legal proceedings.


Rest of the HRF press released here

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