CARACAS, Venezuela — The headquarters of the Venezuelan intelligence service is a vast pyramid-shaped edifice known as the Helicoide, a former shopping mall which now functions as an interrogation pen for political prisoners and protesters.
The 30-year-old economics student had heard enough about the infamous building to be terrified as he was led into a dank cell in early April — his eyes blindfolded, his wrists bound by his shoelaces.
“You’re going to die here,” a guard informed him, he later recalled.
The student had been detained after throwing rocks at an anti-government protest. During the 12 hours he spent inside the Helicoide, he said, the guards pummeled his torso, gave him electric shocks and ignited a type of powder in his cell that had the effect of tear gas, causing him to press his face into the concrete floor to escape the fumes.
Over the past 10 weeks of protests in Venezuela, security forces have detained more than 3,200 people, with over a third of them remaining in custody, according to Foro Penal, a legal aid group. Allegations of mistreatment during the arrests and detention have ballooned, according to human rights groups. They come as authorities have also begun to send demonstrators to military courts, where they can face charges of treason and rebellion that carry lengthy sentences. …