The Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela has maintained its attacks against the press and freedom of expression, despite repeated appeals from U.N. human rights experts, urging it to stop intimidating and criminalizing journalists and civil society.
According to the 2021 Semi-annual Report on Freedom of Expression, which the Venezuelan human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Un Mundo Sin Mordaza (UMSM) published on September 2, there were 150 violations of freedom of expression recorded during the first half of 2021. From January to August, UMSM reported 29 incidents of arbitrary retentions and arrests (retentions do not lead to criminal charges), both of journalists (15) and of private citizens (14), for disseminating information that criticized the regime or damaged its image. More than half of the cases were arrests, the NGO says.
To show the scope of repression, the organization cites as an example the case of Luis Morales, a citizen who was detained, interrogated, and then imprisoned for 20 days for uploading a video about Chinese COVID-19 vaccines on the social media channel TikTok.
In addition, UMSM recorded 63 acts of threats, harassment, or attacks against civilians and press workers, such as threats on social media by public officials, seizures of equipment and work materials, and physical and psychological attacks, among others. The NGO reported 22 cases against conventional media, TV channels and radio stations, which received some sort of administrative sanctions.
The case that caused the greatest uproar was that of the newspaper El Nacional, which high-profile official Diosdado Cabello sued for publishing an article that connected him to narcotrafficking. The court ruled in favor of Cabello and ordered the newspaper to pay him $30 million, but since the sum was not paid, authorities proceeded to seize the newspaper’s assets in mid-May 2021, UMSM said.
“[Members of the Maduro regime] maintain the same strategy [to attack journalists and the media], only they have intensified it, and now they are using the judicial system as a tool to harass, prosecute, and imprison journalists and present lawsuits against the media,” Venezuelan journalist Sonia Osorio, who leads the Miami-based Association of Venezuelan Journalists Abroad (APEVEX, in Spanish), told Diálogo. APEVEX, Osorio said, is working on 14 cases of judicial prosecution against media contributors.
The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which the U.N. Human Rights Council created in 2019 to evaluate alleged human rights violations, said in its September 16, 2021 report that Venezuela’s judicial system has been serving as an instrument of repression at the hands of political leaders.
“According to our latest investigation, there are reasonable grounds to believe that due to intensifying political pressure, judges and prosecutors have played, through their acts and omissions, an important role in serious human rights violations and crimes committed by various actors of the State of Venezuela against opponents, whether presumed or real,” the report said.