Venezuelans demand release of women considered 'political prisoners'

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan human rights activists protested on Monday to demand the release of 17 women they consider political prisoners, as well as to demand punishment for perpetrators of femicide, the term used for homicides that deliberately target women.

In a demonstration outside the U.N. Development Program's Caracas office on International Women's Day, attorney Ana Leonor Acosta told a crowd that some of the 17 women were being held in order to blackmail wanted relatives into surrendering or confessing.

"They are hostages," Acosta said.

Rights groups say that President Nicolas Maduro's government is detaining at least 328 Venezuelans, including civilians and members of the military, for political reasons. Maduro's government denies holding "political prisoners," calling the detainees "politicians in jail" for crimes including terrorism.

Neither Venezuela's information ministry nor the Chief Prosecutor's office immediately responded to requests for comment.

Demonstrators also denounced a lack of punishment for perpetrators of violence against women in the crime-stricken OPEC nation, which has suffered an economic collapse in recent years that has prompted more than 5 million Venezuelans to leave the country.

Local human rights groups have reported 18 violent deaths of women so far this year. In 2020, the Cofavic NGO reported 382 violent deaths of women and girls.

"Venezuelan women do not have anything to celebrate today," said Carmen Grijalbo of the Broad Front of Women, a civic alliance linked with the country's political opposition. "Today Venezuelan women are in the streets to denounce poverty, to denounce shortages."

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Marguerita Choy)