CARACAS, Venezuela -- Monica Fernandez, former judge and one of the leaders of the Foro Penal Venezolano, was shot Saturday afternoon in circumstances that, prior to a full investigation, the government of Venezuela has declared a “car robbery.” Ms. Fernandez directs the Venezuelan research division of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF).
Ms. Fernandez was kidnapped and shot at point-blank range while loading her car with plants she had bought with her fiancé, Javier Herrera. Mr. Herrera, a police officer, was shot five times while trying to prevent the attack. Mr. Herrera killed one of the aggressors; the other drove off with Ms. Fernandez. He later released her and left the car parked nearby. Both Ms. Fernandez and Mr. Herrera are hospitalized in Caracas.
Ms. Fernandez began supervising investigations of human rights violations for HRF in July of 2007. Her current duties consist of documenting the cases of political prisoners as well as exposing political discrimination and persecution of dissidents committed by the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
The night before she was shot, Ms. Fernandez was the subject of “La Hojilla” (“The Razor”), a government-funded TV news program that airs on the state-run Venezolana de Television. The host of the program, Mario Silva, showed Ms. Fernandez´s photograph and repeatedly attacked her as an “enemy” of the state. This was not the first time that Silva has attacked HRF and its work in Venezuela, nor was it the first time he has shown photographs of HRF personnel.
“Human rights defenders cannot work where their lives are threatened. Some organizations refuse to work in certain countries because of this. HRF will not be ceasing its activities in Venezuela anytime soon,” said Thor Halvorssen, HRF´s president, from Caracas.
He added, “We do not know if the attacks on Ms. Fernandez and Mr. Herrera are linked to the incitements made by Mario Silva on Venezuelan television. However, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Venezuelan government is obliged to condemn, investigate, and punish promptly and thoroughly attacks, threats, or intimidation of human rights defenders. The Venezuelan government must ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisal and with the full cooperation of the authorities.”