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26 July 2017

Venezuela couple move to sue officials over death of son

Juan Pablo PernaleteImage copyright
Alejandro Cegarra

Image caption

Juan Pablo Pernalete had been demonstrating against President Nicolas Maduro

The parents of Juan Pablo Pernalete, a Venezuelan student killed at an anti-government protest have taken the first step towards suing a number of high-ranking Venezuelan officials.

José Gregorio Pernalete went to the Supreme Court to hand in a request for it to open a case.

Juan Pablo Pernalete was killed on 26 April by a tear gas canister fired by the National Guard, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said in May.

No arrests have been made so far.

Shortly after the student’s death, government officials including Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, then-Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez and deputy leader of the governing socialist PSUV party Diosdado Cabello denied the National Guard was responsible.

Image caption

Mr Pernalete’s father, José Gregorio, handed the request at the Supreme Court in Caracas

Mr Cabello blamed “gunmen in the service of the bourgeoisie” for Juan Pablo Pernalete’s death and insisted there were no National Guard personnel in the area at the time.

They said evidence suggested that the 20-year-old student had been killed by a bolt gun by fellow protesters, whom they described as “terrorists”.

But their version was dismissed by chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who gave a press conference on 24 May announcing that the young man had died of cardiogenic shock after being hit in the chest by a tear gas canister fired by a member of the National Guard.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Luisa Ortega showed the kind of tear gas canister Juan Pablo Pernalete was hit with

Mr Pernalete’s parents accuse the officials of deliberately twisting events to suit their narrative and of deceiving the public by trying to cover up the role played by the National Guard.

The parents want to sue the officials, which also include Defence Minister Gen Vladimir Padrino López and the head of the National Guard at the time, Gen Jose Benavides, for the psychological damages they said they suffered as a result of their alleged attempts to cover up the murder of Juan Pablo Pernalete.

The Supreme Court has three days to rule on whether there are sufficient grounds for the case to proceed.

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