CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s government said on Monday that a jailed opposition lawmaker killed himself by jumping from the 10th floor of the state intelligence agency headquarters (SEBIN) where he was being held, but his party said that he was murdered by the government.
Mourners of the municipal lawmaker Fernando Alban shout slogans in front of riot police members standing outside the headquarters of Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) in Caracas, Venezuela October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Municipal lawmaker Fernando Alban, 56, was jailed last Friday for alleged involvement in the explosion of two drones during a military parade in August that was led by President Nicolas Maduro, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said in a post on Twitter.
“At the moment he was going to be transported to court, while he was in the SEBIN waiting room, he jumped from the window of the building and fell, causing his death,” Reverol wrote.
That account differed from the one by Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab, who said in televised statements that Alban had asked to use a bathroom and jumped from there.
The opposition First Justice party, to which Alban belonged, said it was holding Maduro’s government responsible.
“With great pain and thirst for justice we tell the people of Venezuela … that Councilman Fernando Alban was murdered at the hands of the regime of Nicolas Maduro,” the party said.
First Justice’s national coordinator, Julio Borges, said Alban’s lifeless body was thrown from the SEBIN’s headquarters on Caracas’ Plaza Venezuela. He did not provide evidence for this nor did he say what led him to believe that Alban was killed.
The party said that Alban’s arrest was owing to statements he made at the United Nations General Assembly last month in New York City denouncing humans rights violations in Venezuela.
The government had previously given no reason for his arrest. On Monday, Reverol said Alban had also been investigated for “destabilizing activities directed from abroad.”
Alban’s assistant, Mileidy Blanco, told Reuters outside the SEBIN, “I was telling him to leave the country, for him to go with his family. And he didn’t do it. He loved the country too much.”
Alban’s lawyer, Joel Garcia, told reporters that when he last saw him on Sunday “he was not beaten, he was fine.” He said Alban told him that he had been interrogated but not tortured.
The opposition and rights groups have said that Maduro’s administration is holding hundreds of political prisoners on trumped-up charges intended to stifle dissent. The United Nations has said detainees are often subjected to ill treatment, including some documented cases that amount to torture.
Authorities have arrested at least 30 people linked to the drone explosions on Aug. 2, which injured seven soldiers.
The government has denied that it is detaining people as political prisoners and has said that they were fairly jailed.
Jorge Millan, another Justice First legislator, said a delegation of lawmakers had immediately gone to SEBIN’s headquarters to request answers on Alban, who was municipal counselor for a Caracas district and had two children.
The Organization of American States (OAS) condemned Alban’s death.
“Direct responsibility of a regime that tortures and murders. This criminal dictatorship must go now from Venezuela,” OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said on Twitter.
Reporting by Mayela Armas Additional reporting by Corinas Pons and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Angus Berwick Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Peter Cooney