At least five dead, dozens wounded and hundreds arrested in new wave of protests
Continued political polarisation and public frustration led to a new wave of mass protests in Venezuela starting on 4th April 2017. There have been numerous reports of major violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including the use of snipers, live ammunition, water cannons and large amounts of tear gas against protesters. In Chacaíto, Caracas, tear gas was even thrown from a helicopter in an attempt to disperse the crowds. There were also reports of armed civilians beating and threatening demonstrators.
According to a report by the local CSO, Foro Penal Venezolano, from 4th to 16th April, five people were killed, dozens wounded, 538 arrested, and 32 have remained in custody. Various sources blame the deaths and injuries on the excessive use of force by the Bolivarian National Police, Bolivarian National Guard, and the so-called 'collectives' - armed pro-government groups that intimidate and threaten citizens.
Among the five confirmed dead by the Ministerio Público on 13th April were two university students, 19-year old Jairo Johan Ortíz Bustamante and 20-year old Daniel Alejandro Queliz Araca. Both died of gunshot wounds in the protests on 6th and 10th April in the states of Miranda and Carabobo, respectively. And 14-year old Bryan Principal died from three bullet wounds in Barquisimeto, Lara state.
On 19th April, Carlos José Moreno Baron, a 17-year old student was shot in the head and died while receiving medical treatment on the ground in San Bernardino square, Caracas. Paola Ramírez Gómez, also shot in the head, died in San Cristóbal, Táchira state.
Also on 19th April, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed grave concern over President Maduro's decision to arm 500,000 civilians and militarise the streets in an effort to prevent further protests, stating:
"The imminent deployment of military forces and armed civilian militias ordered by the Executive Branch represents a serious threat to the standards regarding citizen security and the protection of human rights. [...] The Commission rejects any kind of intimidating expressions or discourse from high State officials against citizens and opposition leaders as a way of dissuading the right to protest. The Commission urgently calls on the authorities to comply with their international human rights obligations, including their duty to facilitate demonstrations and protests, guaranteeing the life and personal integrity of demonstrators, while excluding the use of weapons to control social protests".
Journalists reporting on the April 2017 protests have been repeatedly targeted. There have been cases of physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and confiscation of journalists' equipment. In response to the threats and intimidation of the media, on 11th April the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) publicly urged the Venezuelan government to respect the right to freedom of expression, stating:
"Of particular concern is the information received regarding alleged attacks and confiscation of equipment and materials of journalists and media workers by security officials and groups of armed civilians during the demonstrations. It was also reported that a cameraman was detained and not allowed to cover the protest held on April 6th. Attacks against journalists covering situations of this nature violate freedom of expression because they are prevented from exercising their right to seek and disseminate information, and a chilling effect is generated. It also deprives society of the right to know the information obtained by journalists".
Despite the IACHR's call to protect freedom of expression, the situation has not improved. Venezuelan CSO Espacio Público reported at least 33 violations of the right to freedom of expression on 19th and 20th April alone.