Venezuelans facing food shortages encounter danger and excessive force at protests

Peaceful Assembly

Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict - OVCS) reported 2,414 protests during the first trimester of 2018. This number represents a 93 percent increase compared to the same period in 2017. The organisation also stated that the motive behind 85 percent of these protests was to demand socio-economics rights, mainly basic services and the right to food. During this period, OVCS documented the killing of ten protesters, which the organisation claims is a continuation of "the system of repression that affected social protests and especially protests led by people living in poverty". To give a sense of the danger protesters in Venezuela face, a few of the documented cases of protesters being killed are described below:

On 8th March, Carlos Guarimata was shot dead while he was participating in a protest demanding access to food as there are significant shortages in the country. Three police officers were detained as alleged perpetrators of the killing. A few days later in the town of Motatán, Xavier de Jesús Viloria Bastidas was hit by a stone while participating in a demonstration and later died from the injuiry. 

Association

Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (Bolivarian Intelligence Service - SEBIN) arrested two student leaders, Jhohann Adolfo Lobo Goyo and MichaelI Efrén Labrador Ramírez, on 5th March, after they appeared on a TV programme calling for a peaceful demonstration over the sociopolitical and economic crisis facing the country. The students were charged with incitement to hatred, illicit possession of a firearm and resisting authority. As reported on the Monitor, the first of the charges relates to the recently-approved Anti-Hate Law for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance, legislation that civil society warned contained provisions that could restrict the right to association and expression. 

On 7th May, 42 organisations and activists signed a statement condemning the arbitrary detention of social activists Gregory Hinds and Geraldine Chacón, who are being held despite a court order for their release. Three months ago, SEBIN officers detained Hinds and Chacón, claiming that they needed to interview them. They were then taken to a court hearing, where the prosecutor charged them with with “conspiracy” and “public incitement” to commit crimes. On 2nd April, a judge decided to release them, "given that prosecutors had not presented formal charges within 45 days, as required by Venezuelan law for detained suspects". However, both activists remain in detention. Hinds and Chacón work with the Community Ambassadors, an organisation that provides education and training to disadvantaged youth in Caracas. 

Expression

On 3rd May, local organisation Espacio Publico released its annual report on freedom of expression for 2017. In that year, the organisation registered 708 cases that total 1,002 attacks on freedom of expression, indicating an average of three attacks per day. The majority of the attacks were physical aggression against journalists and citizens exercising their free speech and press rights. In addition, eight TV channels were taken off the air; 54 radio stations and 17 print media had to suspend operations due to the lack of supplies. The situation thus far in 2018 has not improved; from January to April 2018, for example, 126 attacks on freedom of expression were documented.

Regarding online freedoms, Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (Press and Society Institute - IPYS) published a report on the deteriorating internet connectivity in Venezuela. Through a network of allies, between 14th and 24th March, IPYS registered reports of internet connection issues - 198 cases as such in 22 provinces. The organisation expressed its concern over the situation as access to the internet is an important aspect of ensuring the right to expression and the right to access information. IPYS also reported that during the first four months of 2018, 11 media outlets cancelled their printed editions due to the scarcity of printing paper.