SAN JOSE – The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Venezuelan government guilty of violating basic guarantees in the trial and imprisonment of a retired general for slander.
The Nov. 20 ruling, which was posted Friday on the court’s Web site, said Venezuela trampled on Gen. Francisco Uson Ramirez’s freedom of thought and expression.
The retired officer and former Cabinet minister was also deprived of the right to due process, according to the Costa Rica-based court, a body of the Organization of American States.
Uson, despite his having retired the year before, was tried by a military tribunal for slander after he said publicly that a deadly fire at an army brig was caused by the use of a flamethrower against jailed soldiers.
The general, who became an opponent of leftist President Hugo Chavez after leaving his Cabinet post, said the soldiers were attacked because they had signed petitions calling for a presidential recall referendum. The plebiscite was ultimately held in August 2004 and Chavez won with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
Two soldiers died in the brig blaze, which the official investigation attributed to a prisoner’s failure to fully extinguish a cigarette.
The military judges sentenced Uson to 5˝ years in prison for “defamation against the National Armed Forces,” and he spent nearly three years behind bars before he was granted parole in December 2007.
“Within a year, the (Venezuelan) state must nullify the military criminal prosecution against Uson,” the Inter-American Court said in its decision, going on to order Caracas to place tighter limits on the jurisdiction of military justice.
Military justice should apply “only” to active-duty soldiers and only in connection with their official actions, the court said.
The OAS judges also instructed the Venezuelan government to pay $90,000 in compensation and damages to Uson.
The court’s decisions are binding on all OAS members and not subject to appeal. EFE