Civil society: new law restricts freedoms of association and expression

Association

On 8th November, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) approved the Anti-Hate Law for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance. The law contains some provisions that constraint the right to freedom of association. As featured previously on the Monitor, civil society criticised the ANC elections, declaring that "the official results have been widely derided as implausible", as independent observers and the media had no access to monitor the conduct of the elections.

Article 11 of the law further states that organisations and political parties wont be allow to register before the Electoral Body if their principles and activities promote “fascism, intolerance or national hatred (...)” and for new organisations the registration will be denied. On 14th November, the opposition-led National Assembly declared the law as invalid but the ANC has already removed all duties from this institution and its decisions are merely symbolic.

Foro por la Vida, a coalition of CSOs, issued a statement rejecting the legislation, stating that: "We do not recognize this regulation because it does not come from a legitimate institution (...)." 

In a separate incident, local NGO Foro Penal was subjected to a defamatory statement by President Maduro during an interview on 12th November when he alleged that the organisation was financed by the U.S. government intelligence agencies and that its members are former criminals.

Carlos Graffe, a social leader who has been under arrest since 13th July due to involvement in protests reported on the Monitor, had his preliminary hearing postponed once more on 3rd November. 

On 30th October, Amnesty International released a report documenting that the State Security Forces, as well as civilian armed groups, conducted at least 47 illegal raids between April and July 2017, which was a period when massive citizen protests were taking place. 

Expression

Local NGO Espacio Publico published a report on the violations of freedom of expression between January and September 2017. During this period, 887 violations were reported, a significant increase compared to this same period in 2016, and thus making 2017 the most restricted year for freedom of expression in the last 16 years. 

The above mentioned Anti-Hate Law for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance also includes provisions that restrict freedom of expression. For example, article 20 contains from 10 to 20 years in prison for "any person who publicly, or through any means of public dissemination, encourages, provokes, or incites hatred, discrimination, or violence against a person or group of persons, based on their real or perceived membership in a particular social, ethnic, or religious group, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other discriminatory basis". Article 22 revokes the operation of any media outlet that promotes hate. Article 23 imposes fines of three to four percent of media’s gross income to those companies that do not allocate 30 minutes per week for mandatory "messages of peace".

A group of civil society organisations condemned the legislation, stating that: 

"This type of legislation, which contemplates disproportionate penalties to punish broadly defined behaviors and leaving ample capacity for interpretation at the discretion of the justice operator, demonstrates the intention to generate a chilling effect on freedom of expression and to inhibit criticism and dissent in digital spaces".

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also issued a statement

"In the opinion of the Office of the Special Rapporteur, such restrictions could severely hinder the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela and give rise to a strong chilling effect incompatible with a democratic society. In the initial analysis, three aspects stand out as alarming: a) the use of vague concepts and exorbitant penalties not subject to any statute of limitations to criminalize speech concerning matters of public interest; b) the imposition of burdensome obligations on all media outlets, including the suppression and deletion of information of public interest; c) the broad power granted to the State to use media outlets and impose content".

In a separate incident on 5th November, journalist Jesus Medina was reported missing. He was found 40 hours later with signs of torture on his body. After he had published a report of a corruption case in a penitentiary centre, he began receiving threats on social media and was later kidnapped. Medina claims he was threatened with death during his abduction.