Lawyers say Public Ministry, under fire from UN body for human rights violations, is mounting a “judicial coup d’etat” against the right to a defense

Lawyers for two high-profile targets of investigations who have been detained but not charged recently denounced the Public Ministry of the Dominican Republic for interfering with due process, calling the move a “judicial coup d’etat” against the rule of law. The statements came when on Friday, the Public Ministry recused a judge only minutes before she was to rule on prosecutors’ request to extend the three-year long investigation past its statutory limit, which had expired.

The legal teams for José Ramón Peralta, former Administrative Minister of the Presidency, and Gonzalo Castillo, former Minister of Public Works, each said the last-minute recusal was designed to add more delays and further drag out an investigation where both men have faced preventive detention and obstacles to mounting a legal defense. 

Prosecutors are “recurring to judicial recklessness and unfair processes with the goal of getting something they can’t obtain through means permitted by the law,” said Peralta’s legal team in a statement.

Laura Acosta, an attorney for Castillo, told reporters that the last-minute recusal by prosecutors was part of a lengthy pattern of repeatedly delaying resolution of her client’s prolonged detention. Instead of a legal extension of the investigation, it is “an extension in fact, a judicial coup d’etat,” Acosta said.

Dominican media reports state that the Public Ministry based its recusal on how the judge allowed the legal defense teams for Peralta and Castillo to review the evidence against their clients, who still have not been charged with a crime. The recusal came after the statutory limit for filing formal charges ended in November, after which prosecutors dragged out the process of requesting an extension until December and after further delays the decision on the extension was interrupted by the recusal last Friday.

Berenice and Camacho Already Condemned by U.N. Body

The latest developments come after prosecutors Yeni Berenice Reynoso and Wilson Camacho, who are leading the investigations against Peralta and Castillo, were denounced in November by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD). Both prosecutors “systematically interrupted” the rights of Jean Rodríguez Sánchez to mount a defense while he faced a lengthy investigation under preventive imprisonment, the U.N. body concluded in a detailed legal opinion.

In that case, the Public Ministry violated Articles 3, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 2, 9, 10 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Human Rights. Berenice was specifically cited by the U.N. body for being the “protagonist” of a “public discredit campaign” against Rodríguez Sánchez that she had “orchestrated” from the Public Ministry.

The WGAD referred its denunciation of the Public Ministry, Berenice and Camacho to “to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers” given its inability “to consider that the judicial authority in charge of the detention of Mr. Rodríguez Sánchez is independent and impartial.”

International Legal Peril Increasing for Berenice, Camacho and Public Ministry

In paragraphs 98 to 110 of the WGAD opinion, there is a detailed retelling of how Berenice and her collaborators systematically violated the presumption of innocence and used multiple tactics to prolong arbitrary detention without legal justification in the Rodríguez Sánchez case.

Denial of due process and a fair trial while depriving people of their liberty is not only protected by UN human rights provisions but also multiple sections of Article 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights. This means that should these violations continue and multiply, Berenice, Camacho and the Dominican Republic could be subject to additional UN legal investigations as well as human rights cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.