UN experts seek Venezuela probe into abuse allegations

Relatives of Jimmy Vargas, a student who died during a protest, stand next to his coffin during his funeral in San Cristobal on 26 February, 2014 At least 18 people have been killed in anti-government protests over the past month

A group of UN-appointed human rights experts has asked Venezuela for "prompt clarification" of allegations of abuse against anti-government protesters.

The six independent experts said that they were "deeply disturbed" by allegations of cases of arbitrary detention of protesters.

They also asked for urgent clarification on reports that some detainees had been beaten and tortured.

At least 18 people have been killed since the protests started a month ago.

The six experts - Frank La Rue, Maina Kiai, Mads Andenas, Juan Mendez, Christof Heyns and Margaret Sekaggya - are charged by the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues.

In a statement they said they were worried by "reports of the arbitrary detention of various journalists and the suspension of the broadcasting activities of TV channel NTN24".

"The country needs more, not less information on the ongoing protests," they added.

Spreading unrest

The protests started at the beginning of February in the city of San Cristobal, in western Tachira state.

Students marched to demand increased security after a student alleged she had been the victim of an attempted rape.

Some of the protests turned violent, and after the arrest of a number of students, the protests spread to the capital Caracas.

An anti-government lies injured during a rally in Caracas on 2 March, 2014 At least 18 people have been killed and many more injured in clashes between protesters and the police
An anti-government protester uses a slingshot to shoot stones during a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas on 3 March, 2014 Police say they are reacting to protesters targeting them with slingshots and other missiles
A National Guardsman shoots teargas at opposition activists during a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on 5 March, 2014, Protesters allege the security forces are using excessive force in their attempts to disperse them

Opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado called on their supporters to join the student rallies.

Tens of thousands marched through Caracas protesting against Venezuela's record inflation, shortages of some food staples, and one of the region's highest murder rates.

While many of the protests started peacefully, some ended in violence when a hard core of often masked protesters clashed with the security forces.

'Excessive force'

Eight members of the security forces are being investigated for their alleged involvement in the fatal shooting of two men - one anti-government protester and one pro-government activist - following a march on 12 February.

Venezuela's Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega said human rights violations by the security forces would "not be tolerated".

"We're going to go after those who have used excessive force during the protests," she said.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has accused the security forces of beating, sexually harassing and torturing detained protesters.

President Maduro initially denied the allegations, but Ms Ortega has since announced that an investigation is under way.

The UN-appointed experts said that they were ready to visit the country and engage in a constructive dialogue with all parties.

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