Political crisis undermines civic space freedoms
On 23rd January 2019, as Venezuela marked the anniversary of the events that ended Marcos Pérez Jiménez's military regime in 1958, massive protests took place in Caracas and several cities across the country. The protests were called by Juan Guaidó, the president of the country's opposition-controlled National Assembly. For several days, as citizens took to the streets to demand a change in government, authorities used excessive force against demonstrators. This was viewed by international human rights organisations as "an escalation” of the authorities “policy of repression as a means of controlling the people of Venezuela and particularly to punish residents of impoverished neighborhoods" for protesting. Reports indicate that in a period of five days, at least 41 people were killed during the protests and more than 900 arbitrarily detained.
A month later, on 23rd and 24th February 2019, as some international organisations were attempting to send and deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela through the border with Colombia and Brazil, armed forces heavily repressed citizens who demanded that the trucks carrying the aid were allowed to access the country. The indigenous Pemon community living in the border with Brazil were the most affected, as three of them were killed during the repressive actions of the state forces and their used of excessive force. Other 295 citizens were injured. The country is in a growing need of humanitarian aid as it has been identified a 90% shortage of medicines, affecting patients with chronic diseases as cancer, diabetes or HIV. In response, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to the indigenous Pemon community recognising the imminent risks of its members, considering the killings of Pemon members on 23rd February and the constant threats against its leader by the authorities.
.@FrontLineHRD en su comunicado a favor de Marco Ponce pide al Edo “Garantizar que las personas defensoras de #DDHH en Venezuela puedan seguir con sus actividades pacíficas y legitimas sin restricciones indebidas y sin temer a hostigamientos, amenazas o represalias” #JusticiaVe pic.twitter.com/QttfUSTaWR— Acceso a la Justicia (@AccesoaJusticia) February 7, 2019
Acciones de la dictadura contra organizaciones que realizan esfuerzos para ayudar a salvar vidas demuestra la indolencia y crueldad de un gobierno que poco le importa el derecho a la vida de la población. Rechazamos allanamiento a sede organización Fundación Mavid en #Valencia— PROVEA (@_Provea) February 15, 2019
In the context of Venezuela's political, economic and humanitarian crisis, human rights defenders, opposition leaders and civil society organisations have been subjected to harassment and intimidation for their opposition to the government or for denouncing human rights violations. The national human rights NGO, Venezuelan Education-Action Program on Human Rights (PROVEA) reported illegal raids and threats against indigenous leaders in the south of the country. This situation is leading to forced migrations to Brazil. In San Antonio del Tachira, a western border town with Colombia, some opposition leaders houses were marked with red paint as an act of intimidation. In the northern city of Caracas and La Guaira, there are also reports of masked individuals, allegedly members of the State forces in alliance with illegal armed pro-government groups, that are intimidating citizens who joined demonstrations and protests as a reprisal and in order to prevent them to join other protests.
According to Foro Penal, a human rights organisation providing pro bono legal assistance, between 21st and 31st January 2019, the country reached the highest number of political prisoners in its history. In the context of anti -government protests during the first months of 2019, the organisation reported 1,069 arbitrary detentions as 723 of whom still remain in prison, raising the total number of political prisoners to 989. During this period, the organisation also registered 15 enforced disappearances.
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concerns about the "constant harassment against human rights defenders". Marco Ponce, Director of the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS) was accused by a pro-government online media of "promoting and seeking to extend the logic of hatred and confrontation to the popular sectors of Caracas". Ponce has been subjected to a continuous smear campaign by high-level public officials for years that led to the IACHR granting him precautionary measures in 2015. In addition, the website for the TV program Con el mazo dando, allegedly accused human rights organisations of being funded by “the empire” from Colombia using humanitarian aid as an excuse.
On 15th February 2019, police officers raided the offices of Fundacion Mavid, a local CSO working to support people living with HIV/AIDS. The officers seized medicines that the organisation used for its beneficiaries, computers, and detained three of its representatives for 7 hours without an arrest warrant.
En Feb-2019 se evidenció mayor agresión contra periodistas de medios nacionales y extranjeros que cubrían las protestas por el ingreso de ayuda humanitaria. Esto constituye otro componente del #SistemaDeRepresión del régimen de Maduro. #OVCS #Conflictividad2019 pic.twitter.com/89XlSQav1c— Observatorio de Conflictos (@OVCSocial) March 18, 2019
En Feb-2019 continuamos en la calle. Las protestas fueron:— Observatorio de Conflictos (@OVCSocial) March 17, 2019
-El sector educativo lideró manifestaciones por salarios dignos
-Se mantuvo el #SistemaDeRepresión a través de los cuerpos de seguridad y colectivos paramilitares. #OVCS #Conflictividad2019 pic.twitter.com/7KntOh3Lje
During the protests that took place in January 2019, freedom of expression organisation Espacio Publico reported at least 15 cases where journalists were attack or detained while covering the protests. In addition, the organisation documented 69 freedom of expression violations in January 2019. The organisation claimed, these incidents are not isolated attacks, stating in Venezuela there is a state policy to restrict the flow of information. The main internet provider, state-owned company CANTV, reportedly blocked access to several social media and communication platforms during the protests. In February 2019, Espacio Publico documented 27 cases of arbitrary detention of media workers, particularly in the context of journalists covering the delivery of humanitarian aid in the border with Colombia and Brazil.