Concerns over freedom of expression heighten as more media outlets are forced to shutdown

Expression

Arbitrary detention

On 31st August 2018, a judge ordered the imprisonment of a prominent Venezuelan journalist. Jesús Medina was detained a day earlier and charged with promoting hatred and money laundering. As a well-known independent journalist, Medina gained prominence for his reporting of the crisis in Venezuela through social media. He is currently awaiting trial in the military prison, Ramo Verde. 

Censorship 

On 4th August  2018, Deutsche Welle's Spanish-language TV program was temporarily unavailable in Venezuela while the documentary "Venezuela — Escape from a Failed State" was aired. Media organisations suggested that the interruption was censorship enforced by Venezuela's media regulatory body, the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL). CONATEL however, rejected the accusation by responding that "such reports are fake news".  

Several cyber-attacks against independent media were also reported: on 1st August 2018 news outlet El Pitazo reported that their website was blocked without a formal notification by CONATEL. The outlet claimed that this, was part of a targeted attack ordered by the regulatory body which was backed by private internet service providers. In addition, three digital portals Armando.InfoCrónica.Uno and El Nacional also reported that they experienced denial of service attacks in August.

The economic crisis and shortages of printing materials also continue to constrain the exercise of freedom of expression in Venezuela. By 31st August 2018, at least three journals were forced to permanently close operations after the announcement of the new economic measures by Nicolas Maduro. 

Attacks against journalists

On 25th July 2018, military officers threatened a group of journalists who were covering a protest by patients outside a hospital in Lara state. They prevented the journalists from filming the protesters who had gathered to demand better medical treatment. 

A month later, on 29th August 2018, military officers prevented journalist Ana Rodriguez from covering a protest by employees of the State-owned petroleum company, PDVSA in Caracas. The officers threatened to beat and arrest Rodriguez and her cameraman if they did not stop filming. 

Association

On 8th August 2018, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) arrested opposition member of Congress Juan Requesens and his sister, without a warrant. Although his sister was released hours later, Requesens was accused by the authorities of taking part in the attack against President Nicolas Maduro on 4th August 2018. Days after his arrest, a video of Requesens was leaked showing him in 'degrading conditions'. The politician’s family expressed their concern for his health after it emerged that authorities have denied him medical treatment. Questions have also been raised over when his immunity was lifted by the National Constituent Assembly. 

Civil society organisations also expressed their concern regarding the arbitrary arrest:

"We condemn the arbitrary and irregular detention of Parliamentarian Juan Requesens and the lifted of his parliamentary immunity. We are facing a serious due process violation. In addition, we fear that he has been subjected to torture and we urge the Venezuelan government to guarantee his physical and psychological integrity." (Translation from Spanish)

In a separate incident, Amnesty International reported on the situation of Lisa Henrito, an indigenous activist who is leading a movement to stop mining activities in Venezuela. As a consequence, Henrito has been subject to threats and defamation by members of the military. On 23rd July 2018, a military official accused her on national TV of "treason" and "secession". 

On 29th August 2018, two union leaders reported being harassed by security officers. Union leaders Ruben Gonzalez and Carlos Navarro were targeted after raising awareness about the consequences of new economic measures taken by President Maduro for workers in Venezuela. As a consequence, they claimed that members of SEBIN followed them. This is not the first time they have suffered reprisals for their work. In 2015, Gonzalez spent a year in prison for his work promoting labour rights. 

Peaceful Assembly

The Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict - OVCS) registered 2,163 protests throughout July 2018 making it the month with the highest number of protests in 2018. 96 percent of the protests related to social, economic and environmental rights, while protests for civil and political rights only accounted for 4 percent of the total. Labour rights, public services, social security, food and access to health care were the main drivers of these protests. Since the last report, there has been no evidence of any deaths during the exercise of peaceful assembly in Venezuela.