The United Nations has called for a “transparent, independent investigation” into the death of jailed opposition politician Fernando Alban. The opposition has accused Caracas of making Alban’s death look like a suicide.
Venezuela’s government is facing pressure as the European Union, the United Nations and the United States have called for an investigation into the death of an opposition member while in custody.
The government has said the death of Caracas city council member Fernando Alban was a suicide, alleging he jumped from a 10th-floor window of the headquarters of the state intelligence services on Monday.
Alban was arrested upon returning from a trip to New York last week, where he had visited his children and appeared with exiled opposition politician Julio Borges at the United Nations. Opposition party First Justice said the Caracas city councilor was murdered, due to statements he made at recent UN meetings in New York denouncing humans rights violations in Venezuela.
Opposition lawmakers held a small ceremony on Tuesday in the National Assembly, which last year was rendered powerless by the new all-powerful Constituent Assembly created by President Nicolas Maduro and composed of his supporters.
Alban’s coffin was draped in the yellow, blue and red Venezuelan flag, as politicians and relatives gathered to mourn his death. “My father died fighting for democracy and freedom in Venezuela,” his son Fernando wrote on Twitter.
Despite their lack of formal authority, outraged opposition lawmakers voted in favor of a resolution recognizing the government’s “responsibility” for Alban’s death, which called on the UN and the Organization of American States to designate “independent” experts to investigate.
UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said her office was concerned about Alban’s death and noted that when he was arrested, he not been taken before a judge within 48 hours as required under Venezuelan law.
“We do indeed call for a transparent, independent investigation to clarify the circumstances of his death,” she said. “We understand there are conflicting reports on what exactly happened.”
Shamdasani said responsibility for Alban’s safety while in custody belonged to the Venezuelan government. She also expressed her concern about the overcrowded and horrible conditions at Venezuelan prisons, where inmates are deprived of food and drinking water.
The US Embassy in Caracas also called for an independent investigation into what it called Alban’s “suspicious and violent” death.
“We strongly condemn this new violation of human rights which forms part of a long list that led to this tragedy,” the embassy said on Tuesday.
In a statement, the European Union echoed the calls for “a thorough and independent investigation” to clarify the circumstances of Alban’s “tragic death.”
“The EU reiterates its call to the Venezuelan government to release all political prisoners,” said EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic.
In June, a report by the UN Human Rights Council said Venezuelan security forces suspected of killing hundreds of demonstrators and accused criminals currently enjoy immunity from prosecution. It said that the rule of law in Venezuela is “virtually absent.”