Caracas, Venezuela – An opposition human rights group said Friday that Venezuelan authorities have moved a U.S. filmmaker jailed on espionage charges to a notoriously unruly prison where more than 20 inmates were killed in a 2011 riot.
Timothy Tracy, a 35-year-old Hollywood producer and actor, was moved Wednesday from the SEBIN secret police lockup in Caracas to El Rodeo prison, said Patricia Andrade, director of the Miami-based Venezuela Awareness Foundation.
Andrade cited as her sources relatives of other prisoners who were similarly transferred and who she said she cannot name for security reasons. She said they were moved out of the lockup because a bacterial illness had spread through SEBIN lockup.
Venezuela's prisons are badly overcrowded and plagued by lawlessness, with an estimated 70 percent of inmates awaiting trial. El Rodeo was controlled by armed, drug-dealing gangs before the June 2011 riot. Afterward, inmates held it for nearly a month before troops retook it.
A new pavilion for foreigners was inaugurated at the prison in December, but Andrade said that did not mean Tracy was safe.
The foundation said the prison "does not offer the most minimal guarantees for the physical and psychological safety of the detained foreigner." It calls Tracy a political prisoner.
The Associated Press called spokespeople at the interior and prisons ministries as well as the prosecutor's office seeking information about Tracy. All said they had no information.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said she was not authorized to discuss the case because neither he nor his family had waived their privacy rights.
Tracy's sister, Tiffany, said via email that she was aware of the transfer but did not immediately offer additional information.
Tracy had been making a documentary about Venezuelan politics for about six months, family and friends say, when he was arrested on April 24 at Caracas' airport as he tried to leave the country to attend his father's 80th birthday in suburban Detroit.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called "ridiculous" Venezuelan government allegations that Tracy was a spy who was trying to destabilize the country.
Venezuelan officials allege Tracy paid young protesters to participate in violent demonstrations against the ruling party, which narrowly won the April 14 presidential election.
The opposition is contesting the results because it says President Nicolás Maduro won by fraud.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.