Bolivian prosecutors sought six months of pre-trial detention Sunday for ex-president Jeanine Anez as opposition groups called for protests against her arrest on charges widely denounced as political score-settling.
In the indictment, seen by AFP, prosecutors asked for the provisional imprisonment of Anez, 53, and two ministers in her year-long caretaker government as a “precautionary” measure.
The trio were apprehended Saturday on terrorism, sedition and conspiracy charges linked to the ousting of Anez’s predecessor Evo Morales in what he claims was a coup d’etat.
As the most senior parliamentarian left after Morales and his allies fled the country in November 2019 following weeks of demonstrations over disputed elections, rightist conservative Anez took over as caretaker president.
Her arrest came months after Morales returned to Bolivia from exile on the back of a fresh election victory in October 2020 for the leftist Movement for Socialism (MAS) party he founded.
The presidency and congress are now back under the control of MAS.
Anez claimed political persecution as the UN, European Union and United States called for due process to be respected.
– ‘Arbitrary, illegal’ –
Opposition leaders in Bolivia, too, decried the arrests, and civic and human rights groups called for protests in several cities and towns for Monday.
Carlos Mesa, a centrist former Bolivian president, took to Twitter to describe Anez’s detention as “arbitrary, illegal, and a violation of her human rights.”
It also demonstrates, he said, a willingness on the part of the MAS to “violate the laws and the rule of law to persecute and violently subdue Bolivians who believe in democracy and freedoms.”
Morales, in a tweet Saturday, showed support for the arrests and demanded punishment for the “authors and accomplices” of what he described as a coup against him.
Anez and other opposition leaders deny there was any overthrow, saying the popular uprising that led to Morales’ ouster was the result of anger about election fraud.
Following news of the arrests, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed “the importance of upholding due process guarantees and full transparency in all legal proceedings.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in a tweet called for a resolution “within the framework of transparent justice and without political pressure.”
The US embassy in La Paz in a statement urged the respect of “all civil rights and the guarantees of due process”.
And Bolivia’s episcopal conference, the highest national body of the Catholic Church, called for the “immediate release of the detainees”.
From a police barracks in La Paz, Anez sent letters to the EU and Organization of American States asking them to send observers to Bolivia.
– Morales returns –
Anez, a former senator, took over as caretaker president after Morales lost the support of the armed forces amid violent protests against his re-election to an unconstitutional fourth term.
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Morales, the country’s first indigenous head of state, was himself the target of sedition and terrorism charges in an investigation opened shortly after Anez took power.
But he returned from exile last November after his MAS romped to victory in an October 2020 general election that saw the party’s Luis Arce win the presidency.
Morales has since taken over the leadership of the party.
Last month, congress voted to give amnesty to those prosecuted during Anez’s presidency for acts of violence during the chaos that followed Morales’ resignation.
Morales himself was the target of sedition and terrorism charges.
Then in December, MAS party member Lidia Patty filed a complaint against Anez claiming she, several ministers, ex-military and police members, and others had promoted the overthrow of Morales.
Also arrested on Saturday were Anez’s former energy minister Rodrigo Guzman and his justice counterpart Alvaro Coimbra.
The 17-page indictment said the arrests were part of an investigation of a conspiracy to carry out “an alleged coup d’etat” starting three days after the 2019 elections.
The document lists Anez, five former ministers, as well as police and military chiefs.
– ‘Coup-mongering‘ –
Anez, a former lawyer, is a longtime critic of leftist Morales, who after his departure branded her “a coup-mongering right-wing senator.”
He said Anez had “declared herself… interim president without a legislative quorum, surrounded by a group of accomplices.”
Justice Minister Ivan Lima insisted Saturday that the legal system was independent from government.
He also said Anez did not enjoy any prosecutorial privileges as ex-president, adding she would be tried for actions allegedly committed directly after the 2019 elections, when she was still a senator, and before assuming power.
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