Despite the severe crackdown, protests endure, marking 100 days on the streets
At the time of writing, Venezuela remains on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an immediate and developing threat to civic space.
The Venezuelan human rights crisis continues to escalate. Citizens have prolonged the large-scale street protests that began in April 2017, sparked by a Supreme Court decision that removed the powers of the opposition-led National Assembly. Thus far, more than 80 people have been killed and thousands injured and arbitrarily detained. President Maduro has warned that weapons will be used should the chaos escalate, stating:
“If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution destroyed, we would go to combat. We would never give up, and what we failed to achieve with votes, we would do with weapons. We would liberate the fatherland with weapons”.
Recent Supreme Court decisions undermining the powers of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz – who in the past supported Venezuela’s government and has recently spoken out about the government's human rights violations - have added fuel to the crisis.
The Supreme Court also issued a precautionary measure freezing the Attorney General's assets and imposing a travel ban. The Court's actions came after the Attorney General challenged President Maduro's decision to rewrite the Constitution through a Constituent Assembly. The Attorney General also petitioned the Court to annul the appointments of all Supreme Tribunal judges that were made before legislative elections held in 2015.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges issued a statement condemning the intimidation against the Attorney General and declaring that:
“It is essential to avoid any kind of intimidation against the Attorney General. The independence and ability of the person holding that office to investigate crimes, including human rights violations, is necessary for the functioning of a democratic system”.
The national organisation Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict) reported that 2,675 protests have taken place through 19th June 2017. The organisation also reported that 111 people were killed during protests from 6th April through 6th July, though the Public Ministry has officially recognised 90 deaths in total by July 4th, 2017. The local organisation Foro Penal Venezolano (Venezuelan Penal Forum) estimated that during the months of April, May and June, more than 3,500 people have been injured and about 3,545 arbitrarily arrested during the protests, of whom approximately 1,000 remain in detention.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) has issued yet another statement on the situation in Venezuela. As security forces level of repression has increased, ICHR has drawn attention to
“the many and serious allegations indicating that (…) demonstrations were quelled by agents of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) who not only used dispersion methods such as tear gas, but also reportedly fired guns directly and at close range into the crowd of demonstrators”.
Repression of protests have occurred in cities beyond Caracas. For example, on 28th June 2017 security forces in Cumaná disperse protesters using tear gas. It was also reported that armed civilians attacked protesters and even entered local residences to intimidate citizens. In addition, in the city of Barquisimeto, clashes between protesters and security forces led to two deaths and many injured.
Security forces have raided homes as another tactic to intimidate and curtail citizens' right to protest. According to ICHR's statement, on 13th June, armed security forces violently entered people’s apartments in the residential area of El Paraíso in Caracas. It was reported that they used tear gas and even stole some property from the homes. According to a Human Rights Watch report, one resident said that " a group of ten armed men—two of them wearing masks—entered her home, accused her of collaborating with 'terrorists,' and shot her dog in the eye when it started barking".
Freedom of expression violations continue in the context of the government's suppression of protest actions. Between 13th and 28th June, Venezuelan organisation Espacio Publico documented 36 instances in which journalists and media workers were attacked, harassed or intimidated.
Social media users have been arbitrarily detained for freely expressing their opinions on their personal accounts. For example, Antonio Pimentel Rondón was detained on 14th June 2017 for reportedly "tweeting information that caused concern to a member of Parliament".
A TV channel from Universidad de los Andes - ULA TV - was shut down by CONATEL (the media regulatory body in the country). A representative of ULA TV claimed that this decision followed a statement made by the Governor of Mérida State, who accused the channel of promoting terrorism in the region.
In addition, the government continues to block social media access in the country. On 28th June, it was reported that social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were blocked by the state-owned internet provider for about an hour.
Agresiones a periodistas no cesan https://t.co/0T3XbBGcmm— Espacio Público (@espaciopublico) June 29, 2017
In the midst of the crisis, activists and human rights defenders continue to carry out their advocacy work. However, as reported on the Monitor, activists face harassment and intimidation. During a UN session in Geneva in June 2017, the Executive Director of Transparency International Venezuela was threatened by government officials who told her they would confiscate her passport and prevent her from re-entering the country.