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Venezuela chief prosecutor announces plans to jail protest leaders

[JURIST] Venezuela's new chief prosecutor announced plans on Thursday to pursue and imprison those responsible for leading violent protests that have plagued the country since April. The statement came the day before a proposed measure targeting hate crimes was expected to be approved by President Nicolás Maduro's National Constituent Assembly (ANC). The vaguely-worded bill [Reuters report] will punish those found guilty of hate or intolerance with up to 25 years imprisonment. Critics of the bill, which include advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website], fear the new law is aimed at silencing dissent and opposition. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] said [press release] earlier this month that government security forces are responsible for at least 46 of the 124 deaths that occurred during the political unrest, and that another 27 deaths can be tied to armed pro-government groups called "colectivos." The report attributes the violence and abuses carried out during the protests to "the breakdown of the rule of law in Venezuela" and that the "responsibility for the human rights violations we are recording lies at the highest levels of Government."

Venezuela has been going through significant political unrest between the government and anti-government opposition recently. Earlier this month Venezuela's ANC created [JURIST report] a Commission for Truth, Justice and Public Legitimacy that will be able to strip the public duties from those that are found to have acted in the protests. Also in August the Venezuela Supreme Court ordered the arrest [JURIST report] and removal of the mayor of Chacao, Ramon Muchacho. Muchacho was sentenced to 15 months in prison after he refused to take down barricades set up during anti-government demonstrations. In July violent protests erupted [JURIST report] after a controversial election for a new assembly that would have the power to rewrite the nation's constitution. Earlier in July Venezuela's opposition party made a call [JURIST report] for a 48-hour general strike to be held in response to the scheduled election. A non-binding referendum vote [JURIST report] was held in Venezuela earlier in July in regards to the proposed new constitution which showed that 98 percent of the voters rejected the new constitution. The vote was boycotted by many government supporters. In May the US Department of the Treasury announced sanctions [JURIST report] against Venezuelan Supreme Court justices for usurping democracy. In October the National Assembly voted to open criminal impeachment [JURIST report] proceedings against Maduro, alleging that he manipulated the constitution to remain in power. That same month the Assembly also declared [JURIST report] that there was a breakdown of constitutional order and that the government had staged a coup by blocking an attempt to remove Maduro from power. Instability peaked on March 30 when the Supreme Court of Venezuela dissolved [JURIST report] the opposition-controlled National Assembly and assumed all legislative powers.

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