US police carried out a raid of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC, Thursday morning, arresting four activists from the Embassy Protection Collective who had lived inside the building for over a month. Kevin Zeese, Adrienne Pine, Margaret Flowers, and David Paul appeared in a DC federal courthouse Friday, where they were charged with a Class A misdemeanor: "interfering with a federal law enforcement agent engaged in protective functions."
Just got out of court for the four embassy protectors arrested yesterday. They are charged with one Class A misdemeanor — Interfering With a Federal Law Enforcement Agent Engaged in Protective Functions. It carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail + $1,000 fine— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) May 17, 2019
The charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
The four defendants were ordered by Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey to stay at least 100 feet away from 10 locations owned by the Trump-administration-recognized government of Venezuela as well as representatives from that shadow government. They must also check in with court authorities every week by phone and alert them to any foreign travel.
Reporters at the courthouse told Sputnik the prosecution wanted much steeper penalties, including a 1,000-foot minimum distance and the confiscation of their passports, but Judge Harvey reportedly balked at these requests.
Here's the Arrest Warrant for #EmbassyProtectionCollective. Charge: Interference with certain protective functions.— Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (@ThePCJF) May 16, 2019
Significantly, not a trespass charge. Showing US govt wants to avoid defending in court who's lawfully in charge of Embassy; EPC was invited in & lawfully present pic.twitter.com/hFChrUbhf4
The activists had been living in the Venezuelan Embassy, in Washington's historic Georgetown district, for over a month at the behest of the Venezuelan government in Caracas, with the intention of blocking its seizure by forces from the Venezuelan opposition.
It's notable that US police didn't charge the four with trespassing, noted Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the collective's legal counsel, indicating that police didn't want to debate in court the question of who legally owns the embassy property.
However, Reuters falsely reported Friday that the activists had, in fact, been charged with trespassing. Multiple correspondents confirmed there was only a single charge, as described above.
@ReutersUS made up a trespassing charge against the #EmbassyProtectionCollective falsely claiming they were charged with trespassing. Prosecutors deliberately avoided this charge so as not to have to debate who really owns the embassy property.https://t.co/hsQQRfol2D pic.twitter.com/nXKQPpaQ16— Morgan Artyukhina (@LavenderNRed) May 17, 2019
The activists maintain that, as per the Vienna Convention of 1961, the legal owner is the Venezuelan government in Caracas. However, US officials have recognized Juan Guaido as that country's president since January 23 and not Nicolas Maduro, and so they took the side of Carlos Vecchio, Guaido's "ambassador" to Washington, who claimed the embassy on behalf of Guaido's government.
Guaido controls no territory in Venezuela and his three attempts to stage coups d'etat have all fizzled.
The activists said they were taking care of the embassy on behalf of the Venezuelan government until a neutral caretaker government could be found for the facility, as well as the empty US Embassy in Caracas, until the crisis is resolved.
After departing the courthouse, Zeese told reporters he was confident they would be "found not guilty in the end."