Attacks against journalists and confiscation of equipment increasing in Venezuela
Early in the morning of 1st November 2019, members of the Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales (Special Action Forces - FAES) carried out a raid on the residence of social leader Ruth Pérez and her family. Ruth is a community defender demanding basic rights and services; she was previously a member of the community council of Petare, in Sucre, Miranda state. Human rights programme Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos (Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders) denounced that the raid lasted several hours while FAES officers threatened and beat people who were in the residence.
Johander Javier Arai Pérez, Ruth Pérez’s nephew, was arbitrarily detained during the raid and found dead shortly afterwards. Residents of the neighbourhood reported seeing him blindfolded and hearing several shots fired, suggesting that this was an extrajudicial execution. Ruth Peréz had previously lost her brother and another nephew in similar circumstances. In August 2019, Ruth was reportedly threatened by FAES agents, who told her “We will kill every member of your family and afterwards we will kill you”. According to the Observatory, despite several complaints to a number of authorities, Venezuelan institutions have failed to take steps to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of the defender and her family.
On 11th October 2019, Promar TV journalist José Luis Yépez reported that a former Lara state official threatened him by telephone following comments made by an invited guest on his programme. During the telephone call, the official allegedly said that he disagreed with the editorial line of Yépez’s programme and referred to an interview that the journalist conducted with the president of the political party Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT). On 16th October 2019, the National College of Journalists condemned this incident and expressed concern at the systematic censorship of journalists. In an interview with a local news outlet, a former governor of Lara called for an investigation into this incident and implied that the threats were fabricated by the communicator.
“Después de tanto tiempo encerrado sin ver el sol, el sol fue mi primera impresión. El sol, la alegría de estar afuera, fue como que no lo creía”. Pedro Jaimes Criollo, tuitero detenido por publicar la ruta del avión presidencial https://t.co/vNueXxDPoM— Espacio Público (@espaciopublico) November 23, 2019
Pedro Jaimes Criollo, a victim of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention for publishing the routes of the Presidential airplane on his Twitter account in May 2018, was released on 17th October 2019 after a year and five months in detention. Pedro Jaimes was initially detained on 10th May 2018 and his whereabouts remained unknown for 35 days, until his family was told he was in El Helicoide prison. He was accused of “computer espionage” for revealing military secrets, but his defence team argues that the information he shared was publicly available on the internet. According to his lawyers, Pedro Jaimes’ process was fraught with irregularities. He has denounced being a victim of ill-treatment and subjected to beatings while in prison.
The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa de Venezuela (National Union of Venezuelan Press Workers) denounced that two journalists reported being attacked by groups of government supporters at the end of October 2019. Andres Rodriguez, a photojournalist for the digital medium El Pitazo, denounced being robbed while covering a speech by the vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, on 24th October 2019. According to the reporter, his mobile phone was taken and an attempt was made to grab his camera, but he could not identify who was responsible. In the state of Zulia on the same day, a group of militia members and National Guard officers allegedly attempted to take Rosmina Suárez’s mobile phone. The journalist for Radio Fe y Alegría was covering an action by government supporters. Suárez pointed out that the group told her that only state media could be on site and tried to take her work equipment.
Human rights organisation Sin Mordaza registered over 900 violations of freedom of expression between January and September 2019 in Venezuela. Andrés Vilariño, the CSO’s legal coordinator, said in an interview that violations and restrictions have increased this year compared to 2018. Journalists and media workers have been particularly affected by violations that included arbitrary arrests, equipment confiscation and attacks. According to the records of organisations monitoring freedom of expression in Venezuela, in 2019 9 television channels have been taken off the air temporarily or permanently, 11 radio stations have been shut down, 15 opinion programmes have been censored and taken off of the air, 55 journalists have been temporarily detained, and 800 temporary blockades of digital platforms and applications have taken place – especially around protests or opposition speeches.
The Observatorio Venezolanode Conflictividad Social (Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict - OVCS) reported a 28% decrease in protests during September 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. In 2019, 69% of protests in Venezuela demanded economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, linked mainly to labour, quality public services, education, health and food. 31% of the protests related to civil and political rights, led by both opposition political groups and Maduro supporters. The OVCS reiterated the need for the Venezuelan government to guarantee full compliance with and respect for the right to peaceful assembly.
#Venezuela— The Observatory (@OBS_defenders) November 7, 2019
📢Condenamos la ejecución extrajudicial por policías del sobrino de la defensora Ruth Pérez y demandamos medidas de protección
📣Exigimos se actúe contra los alarmantes niveles de ejecuciones extrajudiciales: 9.960 desde 2012 según @COFAVIChttps://t.co/yMne9IVfLE pic.twitter.com/8ikgg6UmEs
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