Nearly three years after her arrest, Venezuelan Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni refused to enter court at her trial, claiming she was raped while imprisoned.
Afiuni is charged with corruption, abuse of authority and aiding an inmate's escape, reported the Associated Press. She maintains that she is innocent. Human rights groups have condemned her prosecution because of President Hugo Chavez's intervention in the case.
Wednesday's hearing started with Afiuni in absentia, and was the latest chapter in what Human Rights Watch has called a "disturbing" example of Chavez's tight grip on power, according to VOXXI. During her defense, one of Afiuni’s lawyers, Thelma Fernandez, described her client as "the most emblematic political prisoner in the country."
GlobalPost's Girish Gupta attended the trial in Caracas, where he spoke to Afiuni’s principal lawyer, Jose Amalio Graterol.
“It’s a sad fact when a president, usurping the National Assembly … creates a criminal code for the sole purpose of judging political prisoners,” Graterol told Gupta as he waited outside the courtroom on Wednesday.
Gupta reported that Afiuni hugged her lawyers and brother outside the courtroom though was unable, by law, to speak to the press. She hopes to make her voice heard through Twitter.
“They’re afraid of what she might say,” Nelson Afiuni, her brother, told GlobalPost as he waited for the trial to begin.
Afiuni revealed in a book released last week by Venezuelan journalist Francisco Olivares that she was raped in the infirmary of a women's prison where she was being held in 2010, said the AP. She said she became pregnant following the rape, when she was 47 years old and, a couple months after the attack, "I didn't stop bleeding."
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"After that episode was when I got sick and they removed my uterus," Afiuni is quoted as saying in the book, according to the AP. In February 2011, the courts agreed to give her house arrest due to health problems.
The Venezuelan government's minister of prisons, Iris Varela, called the judge's account a "vile lie."
"I'm the one who's most interested in having this situation investigated and cleared up," Varela told the AP. "All of this comes from a strategy to sell a book."