Four protesters arrested inside the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC have been released pending hearing – but could face up to a year in jail for trying to prevent a takeover of the building by the US-backed opposition.
Members of the Embassy Protection Collective have been released on various conditions after their arrest Thursday afternoon by heavily armed US police. The misdemeanor charge of “interfering with a federal law enforcement agent engaged in protective functions” carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, even though the activists and the Venezuelan government alike insist the US police had no right to enter the building.
The protesters are “looking forward to the trial,” Kevin Zeese told journalist Anya Parampil after his release, adding that they planned to “make the case that there is a legitimate government, that the Vienna convention was violated, that this was an inappropriate and unlawful arrest.”
Margaret Ann Flowers, Adrienne Pine, and David Vernon Paul were also released. They are due back in court on June 12.
The judge ordered the protesters to steer clear of 10 locations now controlled by representatives of the Venezuelan opposition and check in weekly with authorities as a condition of their release. While the US government asked for their passports to be confiscated, that request was denied, though they must notify authorities if they plan to travel abroad.
The collective had been living in the building for over a month with permission of the Venezuelan foreign ministry, hoping to prevent it from falling into the hands of US-backed “interim president” Juan Guaido, whose operatives have taken possession of other Venezuelan diplomatic buildings after diplomats loyal to President Nicolas Maduro were forced to leave the country.
US authorities had also shut off power and water to the embassy and tried to block food deliveries to the protesters living inside, in a pale echo of the blackouts and sanction-imposed scarcity Washington has inflicted on actual Venezuelans in its ongoing campaign to force regime change in Caracas.
Venezuelan Vice Minister for North American Relations Carlos Ron condemned the raid, calling it an “unlawful breach of the Vienna Convention” and confirming the Venezuelan government did not authorize any US authorities to enter the building, which under international law is considered Venezuelan diplomatic property.