Venezuela orders arrest of key opposition figure’s campaign manager | Venezuela

Venezuela’s top prosecutor has announced arrest warrants for the presidential campaign manager of the prominent opposition figure María Corina Machado and eight other of her staffers, accusing them of involvement in a violent anti-government conspiracy.

The attorney general, Tarek William Saab, said in a nationally televised news conference on Wednesday that the campaign manager Magalli Meda and the others were accused of being part of a “destabilizing” plot that included demonstrations, a media campaign and plans to attack military barracks.

Two of the staffers already were arrested on Wednesday, Saab said, but Meda was among them.

A person familiar with Hernández identified her as the woman seen in a video circulating on social media in Venezuela in which she screams “Help! Help, please! No!” while at least three uniformed officers try to wrestle her into the back of an SUV. The person asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

Saab said the warrants stemmed from what he called a confession by another Machado staff member, Emill Brandt, who was detained earlier this month and whose attorney, Omar Mora, told the Associated Press he has been denied legal counsel of his choice.

The announcement came hours after an independent panel of experts investigating human rights violations in Venezuela told the UN human rights council that the government of President Nicolás Maduro had increased repression efforts against real or perceived opponents ahead of this year’s presidential election.

“The mission confirms that, as has happened in the past, the authorities invoke real or fictitious conspiracies to intimidate, detain and prosecute people who oppose or criticize the government,” the panel head Marta Valiñas told the council, which authorized the investigative mission.

“At the same time, the attorney general’s office continues to operate as part of the government’s repressive machinery to grant the appearance of legality to the persecution of critical voices,” Valiñas said in Geneva.

Machado last year overwhelmingly won a primary election held by an opposition faction. But the country’s supreme tribunal of justice in January affirmed an administrative order barring the former lawmaker from holding public office for 15 years.

Machado, however, has continued her campaign, rejecting calls from inside and outside Venezuela to exit the race.

Machado condemned the arrests. “These cowardly actions aim to close Venezuela’s path towards change and freedom in peace and democracy,” she wrote on Twitter. “Venezuelans, I ask you for strength and courage in these difficult times. Today, more than ever, we need to be united and firm to continue moving towards our goals.”

The election is scheduled for 28 July. The candidate registration period runs from 21-25 March.

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