Venezuela has freed 22 prisoners including the emblematic cases of judge Maria Afiuni and journalist Braulio Jatar, a senior UN official said yesterday.
Twenty students were also among those freed on Thursday, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and her office.
The news came after the UN Human Rights Council held a debate on Bachelet’s report of a visit to Venezuela in June.
“The welcome releases of 62 detainees then (in June), with a further 22 – including journalist Braulio Jatar and judge (Maria) Lourdes Afiuni – set free yesterday and the authorities’ acceptance of two human rights officers in the country, signify the beginning of positive engagement on the country’s many human rights issues,” Bachelet said.
A spokeswoman said Bachelet had requested the 22 releases directly to leftist President Nicolas Maduro.
Afiuni was jailed shortly after former president Hugo Chavez criticised one of her rulings releasing businessman Eligio Cedeno, who was accused of corruption.
Prosecutors accused Afiuni of taking bribes to free Cedeno. She denied the charges, insisting she released Cedeno because he had been awaiting trial for longer than allowed by law.
Meanwhile Venezuela yesterday charged that US-led sanctions had stopped foreign debt refinancing, blocked vital food and medicine imports, and cost billions of dollars in lost oil assets.
President Nicolas Maduro’s government says Venezuela is the victim of a US plot to topple him, eradicate socialism and hand the world’s largest oil reserves to multinationals.
“Today the US has confiscated some $30bn in (state oil company) PDVSA assets while 40 banks are holding onto some $5.4bn, preventing Venezuela from purchasing food and medication,” Castillo told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“Venezuela can’t refinance its debt and oil tankers and businesses are being punished,” he added, saying oil export income had plummeted from $40bn per year to $5bn.
The South American country has debts worth around $200bn to a diverse group of bondholders, commercial suppliers and companies whose assets were expropriated.
Meanwhile  Russia said it plans to take steps to strengthen Venezuela’s armed forces, RIA news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.
Russia is a staunch ally of President Nicolas Maduro and has backed him alongside China.
“I want to underline that I am talking specifically about work with equipment which was delivered there,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying.