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Captain of the Venezuelan Navy accused of rebellion dies after signs of torture

CARACAS – A Venezuelan naval captain accused of rebellion by the government has been imprisoned a week after his arrest, underscoring President Nicolás Maduro's increasingly savage repression campaign in the midst of a worsening economic crisis.

Captain Rafael Acosta is the first of more than 100 active and retired Venezuelan officers to be arrested by the government for treason.

A military judge told captain Acosta's legal department on Saturday that the officer had died in a military hospital the previous night, his lawyer, Alonso Medina Roa, said. Captain Acosta was arrested on June 21

and charged with treason and conspiracy to rise. He denied the charge. Medina Roa said the captain was in good health but was in a wheelchair when he was taken to a courthouse on Friday. The lawyer said his client had difficulty speaking or moving, showed visible signs of beatings, and repeated the word "help."

He was taken to a hospital by the court and died hours later, the lawyer said.

Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez, a close advisor to Mr. Maduro, confirmed Captain Acosta's death on Saturday night and asked the country's Attorney General to investigate the "unfortunate event" without giving any details.

Luis Almagro of the Organization of American States condemned the captain's death and added in a message on Twitter that "Nicolás Maduro's crimes do not go unpunished".

Captain Acosta was one of half a dozen former and active police officers arrested last week for being accused of overthrowing President Maduro. On Wednesday Rodríguez presented a video in which Captain Acosta reported on coup plans during a telephone conference. The video could not be confirmed independently.

Mr. Maduro has survived a coup and assassination in the last two years as the country's economic collapse has weakened its grip on power. However, his government has repeatedly used unconfirmed coup allegations to incarcerate and oppress political opponents and to frighten the armed forces.

Last year, Fernando Albán Salazar, a detained city council member in Caracas, fell victim to his death a window during his interrogation by intelligence agents. The government claimed it was suicide. Acosta was detained the day Maduro met with Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, in Caracas. After the meeting, Ms. Bachelet said she had agreed with the government to evaluate her anti-torture policy.

Her office did not respond immediately to a request for comment after the news of Captain Acosta's death.

His wife Waleswka Pérez told local reporters that her husband had done nothing but discuss in family circles the economic crisis and chronic corruption in Venezuela. She said she has not seen or heard anything about her husband since his arrest.

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