Economic crisis triggers social protest and freedom of expression constantly undermined

On 12th February, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented the country report: "Democratic Institutions, the Rule of Law, and Human Rights in Venezuela". The decision to produce the report, according to the Commission, "stems from the marked deterioration in the country with respect to the exercise of human rights, and the grave political, economic, and social crisis in Venezuela over the past two years and, especially, in 2017". The report examines the situation of political rights, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the country. 

The report emphasises the lack of separation of powers and the weaknesses in government institutions as a major problem which has "resulted in widespread impunity and [has] had a profound impact on the exercise of rights that are fundamental for democracy".  

Expressing critical opinions or dissenting views from the government is a dangerous activity in the country, as according to the Commission, those who dissent "are victims of serious reprisals". Those who still act in an attempt to change the situation "have been met with a State response of severe repression of public demonstrations and social protests with a complete lack of tolerance or respect for human rights".

Expression

Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression continue in Venezuela, with several documented cases of harassment, attacks and criminalisation of journalists covering protests or sensitive issues. 

Attacks, Detentions and Harassment against Journalists

Espacio Publico reported that during his TV show, government official Diosdado Cabello made several remarks against journalists who had posted messages on Twitter questioning a government operation that ended with the killing of former police officer Oscar Perez. Espacio Publico questioned the use of state-run outlets to disseminate offensive messages against journalists. As documented in the IACHR report mentioned above, this is not an isolated incident. The Commission remarked that: 

"[T]he stigmatizing discourse against the press promoted by high State authorities is unacceptable within a democratic system, as it encourages violence against journalists, favors the legitimization of censorship of the media, and it erodes the public's confidence in journalism as the guardian of democracy". 

Journalists and activists covering protests or reporting on sensitive issues are subject to attacks and intimidation. In some cases, the attacks are made to prevent the dissemination of news. For instance, on 13th January it was reported that during a protest in Caracas, police officers forced a journalist from VenemundoWeb to delete footage of the protest in which state security forces were intimidating the demonstrators. In addition, according to reports, the National Guard stopped journalists from filming the situation on the border with Colombia. Another similar case occurred when seven journalists were detained while trying to report on the situation in the house of Leopoldo Lopez as security officers illegally entered his home.

In a separate incident, Gregory Jaimes, Carlos Humbria and Yilibeth Noguera were attacked while filming the start of a protest in a hospital on 21st February. The attack was allegedly triggered by the hospital's Director when he stated that no filming was allowed. The protesters proceeded to push the journalists away from the hospital premises. 

Another incident where criticism led to criminalisation occurred when Argenis Prieto, a worker for oil company PDVSA, reported on the production crisis facing the state-run company. Afterwards, it was reported that relatives of Argenis Prieto were arrested without an arrest warrant.

On 10th February, it was reported that the community radio Visionaria 104.7 was attacked for the third time that month, an alleged consequence of the radio's constant criticism of the government.

Officers of the intelligence services detained Elvys Rondon, director of the radio station Lider FM 100.1. After detaining him for a couple of hours and searching his phone, he was released.

Cyber-attacks

On 15th January, on its official Twitter account, the opposition-led National Assembly announced that its social media accounts had been hacked. Also, the servers of the online outlet Runrunes have been under attack since 2nd March. No further details of these attacks have been given, but it is assumed to be an act of censorship against an independent journal.

Media closure

Several media outlets have had to close or stop publication due to the lack of supplies and the economic crisis facing the country. For example, El Tiempo announced on 25th January that it had to shut down operations. The newspaper is the main print media in Anzoategui State. Later, on 10th February El Impulso announced that it had to stop producing the printed edition, given the lack of printing supplies, and El Informador and La Region faced the same situation, according to reports from Espacio Publico

In a more violent incident, the community Radio Mundial 860 AM was attacked by armed men who destroyed equipment and forced the radio to shut down its operations for an indefinite period.

Association

According to reports, security officers raided the house of activist Marvinia Jimenez on 30th January in Valencia city. During the raid, Marvinia's brother was detained but later released. According to Espacio Publico, the persecution against the activist is connected to the government's accusations that she was somehow involved with the former police officer, Oscar Perez, who was the victim of an extrajudicial killing during a police operation, as reported in a previous Monitor update. 

The harassment and intimidation of political activists continues. It was reported on 24th February that two activists from Voluntad Popular political party were arrested for alleged involvement in planning the kidnapping of the former Finance Minister Nelson Merentes. A spokesperson from the political party said that this arrest was made under false accusations and that it is only intended to silence voices critical of the government.

On 1st March, it was reported that security agents entered the house of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is under house arrest. Lilian Tintori reported that the officers entered the home carrying weapons and stayed inside, asserting that they were following new “orders from above”. 

Peaceful Assembly

At the 167th Ordinary Period of Sessions of the IACHR, Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social reported that protests in January 2018 increased 199 percent and looting 642 percent, when compared with the same month in 2017. It is estimated that 700 people are under arrest for participating in these protests. Local civil society organisations have condemned the arrests as arbitrary and unjustified, especially given that in many cases, people were simply demanding their right to food and health care services. Opposition party Voluntad Popular presented a report analysing the causes behind the 409 protests that they documented in Venezuela from 1st January to 25th February. The main causes sparking protests were food scarcity, demands for health services and political change, and labour rights.