June 25, 2020 / 11:19 PM / 17 days ago

Venezuela lawyer indicted for 'attack' after being pinned to street by military officer

BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (Reuters) - A Venezuelan lawyer who was filmed having her face pressed into a road surface by a National Guard officer was indicted on Thursday for “attacking” a member of the military, fueling outrage over the use of force by the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Eva Leal was getting a ride home from work in her nephew’s vehicle on Tuesday when an officer stopped them and ordered them to pay a fine for violating a quarantine in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Leal asked the officer to show documents demonstrating the legal basis of the fine, and began filming the exchange, members of the lawyer’s family told Reuters. The officer pulled Leal to the ground by her hair, they said.

The now-viral video shows a female officer pinning Leal down and attempting to handcuff her while accusing Leal of taking her pistol. Family members said the weapon was in fact taken by another National Guard officer.

Venezuela’s information ministry and the state prosecutors office did not reply to requests for comment.

A military tribunal charged Leal, who was hospitalized and received four stitches in her forehead, with “attacking the sentinel.”

After being held in custody for two days, she was released on the condition that she return to court when summoned.

Her lawyer, Luis Lecuna, told reporters she would return to court if needed, without providing additional details.

“She did not commit any crime,” said Joel Garcia a human rights activist, via Twitter. “This is a way of disguising the barbaric act that was committed against her.”

Venezuelan troops and police have been routinely accused by rights groups of arbitrarily detaining protesters and opposition leaders as well as staging confrontations to justify executions of accused criminals.

Rights groups have also criticized Maduro for reliance on military tribunals, which are typically used for members of the military, to try civilians.

Maduro’s allies say opposition militants have used violence against troops and says the government prosecutes officials who violate human rights.

Reporting by Keren Torres, writing by Vivian Sequera and Brian Ellsworth; editing by Grant McCool

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