New Year starts with criminalisation of protests and continued repression

Association

On 16th January 2018, Alfredo Romero, executive director of the local organisation Foro Penal Venezolanoconfirmed that the organisation has documented the cases of 216 political prisoners in the country. The organisation also highlighted that 2017 was the year with "the highest levels of repression in the history of the country". In addition, it stated that 15 percent of the people arbitrary detained in 2017 reported being subjected to torture and ill-treatment.  

As previously reported on the Monitor, civil society has expressed serious concern over the lack of access to medical treatment for activists in detention. Amnesty International issued an urgent call in December 2017 and requested the transfer of activist Villca Fernandez to a hospital after doctors identified numerous health problems. Despite the doctors’ request and an order from the General Attorney’s office, Fernandez had not been relocated to a health facility. 

As previously reported on the Monitor, activist Carlos Graffe was also denied access to medical care while in detention and had his preliminary hearing postponed on 3rd November 2017. According to reports, Graffe was granted house arrest in November and a month later a court ordered his conditional release but imposed a travel ban. 

Peaceful Assembly

Since the start of 2018, the criminalisation of social protests has only continued. According to reports from local organisation PROVEA, two people were arrested on 3rd January in Carabobo State while they protested against the lack of food in the country. They are accused of instigation under the new Anti-Hate Law and face up to 20 years in prison.

During December 2017 and January 2018, several demonstrations took place due to the "food crisis and increased poverty". PROVEA reported that at least seven people have died since 31st December in these protests and the organisation also claimed that security officers were responsible for three of the deaths. In addition, at least 311 people were arrested during the protests. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its 2017 report, showing that 2,000 people were injured in anti-government protests in the first half of 2017. Also, HRW reported that contrary to international human rights law, at least 750 civilians were tried in military courts. 

Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict) presented its 2017 findings on the right to peaceful assembly. According to the organisation, 9,787 demonstrations and protests took place in Venezuela during 2017, which is an increased of 41 percent compared to 2016. Citizens protested over the socio-economic crisis in the country, food and medicine shortages, and the issue of political prisoners as well as demanded free and transparent elections. Roadblocks and marches were the main means of protest, and repression by police and security forces was a constant. 

Expression

Local NGO Espacio Publico published its 2017 report on the situation for freedom of expression, wherein it documented 1,001 freedom of expression violations during that year. The main violations included intimidation, aggression and censorship. State security and institutions were the main perpetrators of these attacks. The organisation had already presented a report in October 2017, in which they identified that most of the attacks on freedom of expression happened in the context of the mass protests and included robbery and destruction of equipment, physical aggression, and illegal detentions.

Alba Cecilia Mujica, a journalist with media outlet Globovision, was dismissed after she made a public statement rejecting the extra-judicial execution of former police officer Oscar Perez and others during a police security operation, even though there is evidence that Perez and the team surrendered during the operation. In addition, security forces prevented media workers from covering the above-mentioned security operation.