Repression and criminalisation of protests continue in Venezuela

Peaceful Assembly

As previously reported on the Monitor, mass protests in Venezuela have been ongoing for more than 40 days now. Civil society has documented the excessive force used by the security forces against demonstrators, including the disproportionate use of tear gas, some even in residential areas and other closed spaces, such as shopping malls and universities.

There have also been reports of armed, pro-government civilians attacking and intimidating demonstrators, and in some cases trying to raid residences to harass and intimidate protesters. Such illegal activities have been documented since 2014.

Security forces have also engaged in such activities. On 15th May 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that at least 50 members of the National Guard forcefully entered residential buildings in the city of Valencia without a search warrant and stole telephones, clothes and other personal belongings.

In addition to the intimidation and as a consequence of the excessive force, many people have been injured and killed during the protests. According to the Public Prosecutor, 38 people have been killed and 830 injured during the protests held from April to early May. 

Scores of others have been arrested in connection to the protests. Venezuelan civil society organisation (CSO) - Foro Penal Venezolano - reported that 1,668 people were arrested during the protests in April alone. At least 517 were released without charge. The CSO also obtained information regarding the prosecution of at least 275 civilians by military courts, which contravenes Venezuela's constitution and international standards.

On 9th May 2017, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement condemning the government's repressive measures to quell protests, as well as the state's use of media to stigmatise and criminalise citizens, calling protesters “terrorists” or “armed insurgents”. Moreover, the IACHR expressed its concern over President Maduro's decision to revoke the Charter of the Organization of American States - a decision “unprecedented in the inter-American system”.

Expression

Venezuelan CSO - Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad - reported that 17 journalists have been arrested since protests began on 2nd March 2017. From 28th March - 28th April, the CSO also documented 92 cases of attacks on freedom of expression within the context of the protests.

The attacks against freedom of expression have only continued. The CSO - Espacio Publico - found that from 13th to 15th May,13 violations of freedom of expression were reported.

In a joint statement, the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression at the IACHR and the United Nations expressed their concern over violations of freedom of expression in Venezuela and noted specific cases wherein three online platforms were blocked by internet operators, by orders of the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel).

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.