Democratic Opposition in Venezuela - 2017, Venezuela

In 2017, the Sakharov Prize was granted to the Democratic Opposition in Venezuela, that is, to the National Assembly (represented by Julio Borges), and to all political prisoners as listed by Foro Penal Venezolano, and represented by Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González.

Sakharov Prize 2017 laureate Democratic Opposition in Venezuela

© EU 2017 - EP/AP Images / Ariana Cubillos

For several years, Venezuela has been in political crisis. The ruling party has steadily limited the rule of law of and the constitutional order, and in March 2017 the Supreme Court stripped the democratically elected National Assembly of legislative power. Julio Borges, the president of the National Assembly, summed up the situation in Venezuela in the following words: "It's not only a political confrontation in Venezuela. It's a vital, existential, values-based confrontation".

Against a backdrop of hyperinflation, chaos and unrest that has been unfolding for at least a decade, the Venezuelan government has persecuted, harassed and detained hundreds of political oponents.  The identity and status of political prisoners is reported by Foro Penal Venezolano (Venezuelan Penal Forum), a prominent Venezuelan human rights organisation that provides legal assistance pro bono to those with limited economic resources and presumed to be detained arbitrarily, tortured or assaulted during protests.

The Venezuelan government has detained opposition leaders such as Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González. While some of them were provisionally released in 2018, many remain under house arrest or in prison, sometimes in harsh and inhuman conditions.
After more than three years in prison, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been under house arrest since July 2017 and is not allowed to return to the political arena. Another prominent opposition politician and former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledesma, had been under house arrest since 2015, but managed to flee the country in November 2017, while fellow former mayors Alfredo Ramos, of Iribarren, and Daniel Ceballos, of San Cristobal, had also been imprisoned for extended periods of time. Both have recovered their liberty.

In the wake of the Presidential elections held in May 2018, which were boycotted by the opposition and whose results have not been recognised by most international actors, including the European Union, the Venezuelan government tried to improve its image by releasing some political prisoners. However, Sakharov Prize Laureate Lorent Saleh, a student leader and pro-democracy activist, has been kept incommunicado in Heliocoide prison in Caracas, even as his health deteriorates.

The Sakharov Prize is a recognition to their bravery and their ongoing effort for a future of freedom and prosperity in Venezuela.

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