30th April 2019: another peak in repression

Association

The escalating political crisis in Venezuela have witnessed an increase in violations of civic freedoms. On 30th April 2019, Juan Guaidó, National Assembly President appeared in the streets with the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez who was previously sentenced to 14 years in prison and held under house arrest, to announce that some officers of the armed forces were supporting their call to "end the usurpation by Maduro." The two politicians called for Venezuelans to take to the streets and demand that Nicolas Maduro step down from power. The fallout from protests held on 30th April 2019, is covered in the “peaceful assembly” section. However, the growing tension led to a backlash against opposition leaders by the government. 

A number of opposition politicians were arrested and harassed in the ensuing crackdown. On 10th May 2019, Emilio Mirabal from the State of Anzoategui reported that his house had been vandalised by the so-called “colectivos chavistas”. The graffiti can be seen in the picture below. Similarly, on 26th April 2019, the opposition Congressman Gilber Caro was also arrested while at a restaurant in Caracas and at the time of writing, his whereabouts remain unknown. No information regarding the justification for his arrest has been released by Venezuelan authorities. Finally, on 1st May 2019, the house of opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez was raided, searched and burgled allegedly by members of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin). Lopez and his family are currently residing in the Embassy of Spain in Venezuela as a precautionary measure.

According to the local NGO, Foro Penal, in Venezuela there are currently 857 political prisoners (as of 6th May 2019), meaning an increase of 72 prisoners since the CIVICUS Monitor's last update on Venezuela. In light of this increase in political prisoners, the Director of Foro Penal expressed his concern over reports of more sophisticated forms of torture against political prisoners. The video below documents his comments. 

On 24th April 2019, a new report by Foro Penal detailed the siege of the Pemon indigenous community between 22nd and 28th February 2019. The siege was imposed after the community opposed Maduro's government and for attempting to help humanitarian aid to enter the country. Members of the community now living in the exile in Brazil, recounted how the Venezuelan army arrived to their community heavily armed to dissuade the community from protesting. One survivor of the attacks stated:

“They attacked all of us with live ammunition, these were not rubber bullets, (...) they wanted to kill us all”.

As a result of this harassment, more than 700 hundred members of the Pemon indigenous community have had to leave their lands and move to Brazil fearing the attacks of the Venezuelan army. The report documents that at least 7 people were killed and 62 arbitrary arrests were registered in the confrontation.

Peaceful Assembly 

According to the Venezuelan Social Conflict Observatory (OVCS), 6,211 protests were reported in Venezuela in the first 90 days of 2019. On average, this figure represents 69 protests per day, which is an 157% increase from the number of protests in 2018. While the protests represent a variety of economic, social, cultural and environmental demands, a high percentage also relate to political rights. In fact, there were 2,820 street actions demanding political rights during which citizens demanded the end of Maduro’s government.

On 6th April 2019, the opposition and the government called for protests at different points in Caracas and Venezuela to reject or support the government of Nicolás Maduro. During the protests, approximately 30 opposition demonstrators were injured in Zulia State, as the Bolivarian National Guard soldiers used gas and pellets in two marches to disperse them. In addition, in the city of Maracaibo, Renzo Prieto and Nora Bracho, two opposition deputies, were temporarily detained and subsequently released. Juan Guaidó rejected the excessive force used by Venezuelan security forces and declared that the repression will not stop protester.

30th April 2019 and 1st May 2019 saw massive mobilisations demanding the resignation of Nicolas Maduro. The result of the repression during these days witnessed 273 people arrested and five people killed. Three of the victims killed in the confrontation were under the age of eighteen. There are also reports of 30 officials of the State military being disappeared for allegedly supporting the opposition leaders Juan Guaido and Leopoldo Lopez on 30th April. The UN Human Rights Office expressed its deep concern on the use of excessive force against demonstrators in Venezuela. In a statement on 1st May 2019, a spokesperson for the office said: 

"We remind State authorities of their duty to ensure the protection of the human rights of all people – regardless of their political affiliation. All sides should renounce the use of violence. We urge the political leaders to engage in meaningful discussions to work towards resolving the current crisis."

Expression

According to NetBlocks, a global organisation monitoring internet disruptions, the access to services such as Google and YouTube were severely affected while Juan Guaido was speaking to the public on 30th April 2019. On the other hand, the coverage of these services increased considerably minutes before Nicolas Maduro gave his speech to the nation hours later to reject the widespread protests.

The Inter American Press Association rejected the attacks against the press on 30th April 2019. According to the organisation, 19 violations of freedom of expression were reported on that day alone. There were eleven instances of media being unduly blocked or interfered with, which included cases of robbery and arrests. CNN International and BBC were also censored in the country during the protests.

On 12th April 2019, The National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) denounced the new groups attacking journalists in Venezuela, including the SEBIN, the Counterintelligence Division (DGCIM) and the “colectivos chavistas” who act within the statute of "Security Corps" of the State. In the 2013-2018 period, 2,020 attacks against journalists were documented including physical attacks, disappearances, detention, theft of equipment, violation of journalist’s privacy. In addition, the exercise of journalism has been affected by the blackouts of recent months because which has resulted in the media being unable to operate and transmit their information.