Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela crisis: Photographer Jesús Medina freed from jail after 16 months

A view of the Ramo Verde penitentiary in Los Teques Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jesús Medina was held without a trial at the Ramo Verde military prison

A Venezuelan photojournalist who was kept in a military prison without a trial for 16 months has been released, activists say.

Jesús Medina, 37, was part of a team investigating the country's healthcare crisis when he was detained in Caracas.

He faced charges including inciting hate, illegal enrichment and criminal association, but a hearing on his case was postponed 10 times. Officials have not explained why he has been freed.

Seven other people were also released.

According to Foro Penal, a local human rights group, there are 388 political prisoners in Venezuela, which has suffered from years of economic and political crisis under President Nicolás Maduro.

Mr Medina, who contributed to several outlets including opposition publications, was detained by agents of the National Bolivarian Intelligence Agency (Sebin) on 29 August 2018. He was later sent to the maximum security Ramo Verde prison on the outskirts of the capital.

The criminal file did not include any legal or factual analysis to substantiate the charges, according to a lawyer from his defence team quoted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a report last year. Activists said his health had deteriorated because of the prison conditions.

José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said last May that Mr Medina's detention was "consistent with a pattern of arbitrary arrests and harassment of opponents, critics, and those who dare expose the truth about what is happening in Venezuela".

Mr Medina was previously detained in October 2017 while reporting at a prison in northern Venezuela with two international journalists, the CPJ said. After his report was published, he went missing and was found two days later on a highway outside the capital.

According to Foro Penal, the other people released included Manuel Chacín, Jorman Linares and Michael Vargas. Local media reports said they had been detained in October 2017.

The releases happen a day after chaotic scenes at the country's National Assembly after security officers prevented opposition leader Juan Guaidó from taking part in the election of a new Speaker. As a result, dissident opposition lawmaker Luis Parra was elected.

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Media captionJuan Guaidó tried to climb over a fence to enter the National Assembly building

But National Assembly members backing Mr Guaidó said the move amounted to a parliamentary coup, and held a rival vote outside the chamber re-electing him as Speaker. The legislature starts a new session on Tuesday.