Family and friends of Los Angeles County public defender Eyvin Hernandez gathered at the UCLA School of Law earlier this week to bring attention to what they say is his wrongful imprisonment in Venezuela 10 months after refusing to pay a bribe to a mysterious group that kidnapped him and a friend, KTLA reports.
Supporters, 44, as well as U.S. officials, say he has been locked down on trumped up charges since March 2022, just days before he was set to head back to L.A. A friend had asked Hernandez to accompany her to the Columbia-Venezuela border, where they were intercepted by what may have been a paramilitary group, a gang, or official Venezuelan forces, according to the Los Angeles Times. After refusing to pay a $100 bribe to the group, the two were turned over to Venezuelan security forces and jailed.
Accused as an American spy, Hernandez is being held at a maximum security military prison and faces up to 16 years on charges of criminal association and conspiracy. The U.S. State Department has classified him as wrongfully detained. Hernandez’s friend also remains in custody.
In a statement to KTLA, Osman Khan, a former Venezuelan hostage who met Hernandez while in prison, said, “The only way they get released is for the two governments to come to an agreement… Both sides want something.”
Kahn, who was released in a prisoner exchange, added, “When you’re being held for political gain, you’re not treated the best. It’s a difficult situation overall, a painful situation. You’re deprived of your rights, deprived of human dignity.”
Hernandez had already confirmed those fears to his family in a secretly recorded call in August.
“This place is meant to break you psychologically and spiritually,” he said. “If you don’t get us out soon, then there might not be anyone left to save.”
Hernandez’s family and friends have questioned why Hernandez was not included in a trade that freed seven American prisoners in exchange for two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife, who were serving time in U.S. prisons for drug smuggling. They are not the only ones asking. Mayor Karen Bass, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-San Pedro), and other House members have signed a letter urging President Biden and his administration bring Hernandez home.
“Expeditious action is needed,” the letter stated. “The judicial system in Venezuela is highly compromised, and any trial against Mr. Hernandez is unlikely to produce a fair result.”
Hernandez’s family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the costs associated with bringing him safely back to the U.S.
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