Report to the 72nd General Assembly

Mexico City, Mexico

October 13 – 17, 2016


Recent months have seen an increase and broadening of attacks on freedom of expression. The government has made it impossible for print media outlets to obtain newsprint, forcing some to shut down their print operations while maintaining an online presence. Radio outlets, meanwhile, have been denied in their attempts to renew their broadcasting licenses.

The attacks make no distinction between small outlets, large outlets or individual journalists. Government authorities, police agencies, and military forcing are waging a concerted effort to prevent the dissemination of news stories. This has occurred most frequently in relation to the four most newsworthy developments: long lines to purchase food and medicine, the crisis in public utilities, public protests, and news coverage of violence related to criminal activity.

These actions are not limited to threats, arbitrary arrests and physical assaults. Some of these incidents are highly dangerous. Shots were fired at a videographer in Barinas for filming the military cordon that was blocking the progress of a legal, peaceful march. Braulio Jatar, a Chilean-Venezuelan journalist, has been illegally detained and transferred from one jail to another, due to a video posted to his website about a protest against President Nicolás Maduro. Four members of a production team were arrested for making a video for a political party, and other journalists were accused of terrorism simply for doing their work.

The Maduro administration has been conducting a three-pronged harassment campaign against journalists: brutally beating them, stealing their equipment, and threatening them if they report what happened. These attacks are often perpetrated by civilians operating under the protection of those in uniform. Developments in recent months have confirmed the government's ties with criminal and paramilitary groups.

Facilities of media outlets continue to come under attack. Shots have been fired on them at night. Feces have been thrown at them, as happened to El Correo del Caroní and El Nacional, and Molotov cocktails are used to start fires.

Government institutions do not look into complaints or allegations. They do not investigate. They remain silent. In fact, they are complicit in these incidents, as in the case where a court in the state of Barinas, on August 23, banned all three local newspapers from covering allegations linking Adán Chávez, the brother of former president Hugo Chávez, to acts of corruption. In another example, a huge fence has been erected around a Caracas morgue to bar entry to journalists.

A number of government officials use their television and radio programs to threaten, slander, and attack the credibility of independent journalists. These officials include President Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, José Vicente Rangel and Carabobo state governor Francisco Ameliach.

Below are some of the most noteworthy incidents in this period:

On April 13, news photographer Miguel González was assaulted and robbed by supporters of the ruling party outside the offices of the National Electoral Council (CNE) after he covered the delivery of more than 2,000 signatures to the CNE by the Democratic Unity Roundtable.

On April 19, the president of the state-owned network Venezolana de Televisión reported that the front of the network's building had been damaged.

On April 21, a group of journalists for Globovisión was assaulted by officials from the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) at the CNE offices while the journalists were covering an incident in which legislators had chained themselves to the stairs to demand a referendum on the recall of President Maduro.

On April 22, journalist Mildred Manrique was taken to a clinic after she was beaten by GNB officials at the CNE offices.

On May 11, journalist Pedro Rojas, press officer for Barinas city councilman José Luis Calderón, was injured by buckshot while filming the GNB security cordon that was blocking an opposition march as it proceeded toward the regional CNE offices to demand that the presidential recall process be set in motion.

Disodado Cabello, while speaking on his program titled "Con el mazo dando" ("Hammering away"), confirmed that he will press forward with his complaint against the owners of El Nacional, La Patilla and Tal Cual, as well as against the Wall Street Journal, for having described him as a drug trafficker. These outlets had quoted this description from a previous story in the Spanish newspaper ABC.

On May 18, Jorge Rodríguez, head of the United Socialist Party, announced that he would file civil and criminal complaints against El Nacional (online version), La Patilla, Noticias Venezuela and Reporte Confidencial, among others, for posting a story on a young woman's assault allegation against him.

On May 19, while covering a political event of the Democratic Unity Roundtable in the state of Vargas, Nadeska Noriega, a journalist for El Pitazo and El Universal, was assaulted by a supporter of the United Socialist Party.

On May 19, journalist Rodrigo Lahoud and news photographer Mario Sánchez of Falconía TV were accused of terrorism by the commander of the 13th Urban Security Detachment while they were photographing the unit's headquarters.

On May 25, Colombian journalist César Flechas, a correspondent for Caracol Radio in Caracas, was detained for three hours by GNB officials while he was covering a line of people waiting to purchase basic consumer goods at the Abasto Bicentenario grocery store in Plaza Venezuela. Flechas was accused of being a paramilitary agent.

On June 2, the reporting teams of Vivo Play and NTN24 were assaulted during a demonstration in Caracas. Journalist Andrea Cedeño, the cameraman and the driver were forced out of their vehicle and down to the ground, where they were held at gunpoint while their equipment was stolen.

On June 9, José Leonardo Valero, a news photographer for Noticias Digital, had to flee from armed civilians and take refuge in a home while he was covering a protest over food by residents of Universidad Avenue and the neighborhood of La Vuelta de Lola in the city of Mérida.

On June 10, officials of the National Telecommunications Commission, escorted by the GNB, shut down La Barinesa radio station in Barinas on the grounds that the station's license had expired in 2014. The journalists, however, maintain that the shutdown is in retaliation for opinions aired by the station.

On June 14, the offices of the newspaper Correo del Caroní in Puerto Ordaz, state of Bolívar, were attacked by five unidentified individuals who threw bags containing animal feces.

On June 17, a copycat attack was perpetrated with feces thrown against the offices of El Nacional.

Pableysa Ostos, a correspondent for Correo del Caroní, reported that she and two other journalists in the state of Bolívar (Jhon Buchelly of El Diario de Guayana and Yusbeyris Letidel of Primicia) had been verbally assaulted by GNB officials while looking into reports that four people had been detained by military forces in the area.

On June 20, the offices of El Aragüeño newspaper in Maracay, state of Aragua, came under attack from an explosive device thrown by two individuals aboard a motorcycle.

On June 25, the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) interrogated three journalists: Román Camacho of La Patilla and Yosselin Torres and Darvinson Rojas of El Pitazo. The officials wanted the reporters to reveal their sources for a video leaked from the Venezuelan Central Bank.

On June 30, amid looting in Tucupita, state of Delta Amacuro, Radio Fe y Alegría reported that its electricity service had been cut off "by orders of the governor" in an attempt to prevent the station from continuing their live reports on events there.

On July 13, after appearing at the central courthouse in Maracay, state of Aragua, journalist and opposition political activist Alejandro Ledo was accosted by individuals who identified themselves as "state security" but did not clarify to which entity they belonged. They forced him into a vehicle and kept him there while driving around northern Maracay for five hours.

On July 14, while covering a march called by the Democratic Unity Roundtable in La Guaira, state of Vargas, with the presence of Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles and opposition legislators, reporters Rafael Hernández of NTN24 and Ricardo Sánchez of the website RicardoLoDice were assaulted by supporters of the ruling party.

On July 21, Carolina Isava, a correspondent for Radio Caracas in the state of Sucre, was harassed and threatened by SEBIN officials while she was covering a visit to the area by National Assembly members who belong to the Democratic Unity Roundtable.

On August 11, four journalists were beaten during a special operation of the Center for Scientific, Criminal and Forensic Investigation at the Cosmos shopping center in Barquisimeto, state of Lara.

On August 12, while covering a protest by physicians at the Central Hospital in Maracay, news photographer Luis Torres of El Siglo newspaper was assaulted and robbed by a group of 12 people who also beat demonstrators, tore up banners, and stole cellphones that people were using to record the protest.

On August 15, a SEBIN official threatened news photographer Marcos de Gouveia of the newspaper Periódico de Occidente while he was covering a protest over transportation in Acarigua. The official, Nelvis Rea, forced the reporter to delete the photographs he had taken.

On August 22, two armed assailants entered the offices of the website Crónica Uno, subdued two people and stole their computer equipment and encoders.

On August 24, two armed assailants fired some 30 shots at the front door of the offices of Los Andes newspaper in Trujillo. No one died or was hurt in the attack, but property was damaged.

On August 31, a group of masked individuals riding in a pickup truck threw Molotov cocktails and feces at the headquarters of the newspaper El Nacional. They left behind a flyer that was addressed to the newspaper's editor, Miguel Henrique Otero, and signed by an organization identified as "Chama people in rebellion" [the word "Chama" is derived from a combination of "Chávez" and "Maduro"].

On September 1, the government prevented the entry of journalists from the French newspaper Le Monde, the U.S. radio station NPR, and the Colombian Caracol radio network, who had traveled to Caracas to cover the opposition march.

In the "takeover of Caracas" and other mobilizations by opposition groups in Venezuela, the organization Espacio Público has documented 12 violations of freedom of expression involving a total of 20 victims, including journalists, photographers, camera operators, and media outlets.

On September 3, Braulio Jatar, a Chilean-Venezuelan journalist and editor of the website Reporte Confidencial, was detained along with some 30 other people after the confrontation on Isla Margarita. All of the detainees except Jatar were released over that weekend.

On September 5, Alejandro Puglia, director of the National Assembly's Monitoring and Evaluation Office, was detained by Caracas judge Yesenia Maza. His crime: operating a drone during the demonstration that took place in Caracas on Thursday, September 1.

On September 14, the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights warned of a deterioration of press freedom in Venezuela. Both of the respective rapporteurs on freedom of expression — David Kaye of the UN and Edison Lanza of the IACHR — issued their warning in a joint statement on the detentions, interrogations, and seizures of equipment of at least seven journalists and media workers in recent days.

On September 20, intelligence officials appeared at the home of Andrés Eloy Moreno Febres with an "alleged order to take him into custody" — which they displayed on a cellphone, not a printed document. Several days later, family members denounced what they viewed as the "arbitrary detention" of Moreno Febres by SEBIN officials. He had worked with Marco Trejo, César Cuellar and James Mathison to produce a video for the Primero Justicia [Justice First] political party. All four men are in custody.