73rd General Assembly
Salt Lake City, Utah
The Nicolás Maduro regime, continuing that of Hugo Chávez, attests to the principle that in a dictatorship freedom of expression is always the first victim. The press as one of the vehicles that makes possible its exercise is the main target. The regime has been evolving through very subtle censorship mechanisms, which have included the distribution of official propaganda as a reward to the most compliant or servile news media, passing through defamation lawsuits, threats to journalists, the shutdown of radio and television stations, the blocking of Web sites and digital platforms, arbitrary detentions and military trials of journalists, up to the most bloody forms of censorship.

Currently the mere fact of covering a public anti-government demonstration can be regarded as a "terrorist" act under the power of the military tribunals. To send a Tweet, draw a caricature or make a joke can have severe penal consequences.

The regime does not accept political plurality. Recalling the practices of Stalinism the point has been reached of issuing a restraining order for dementia a former presidential candidate, silencing one of the most lucid voices of the opposition and of journalism. There is no news media, opinion or information that has escaped censorship. The fact is that a movie, such as "El Inca," has been praised and applauded by critics neither has prevented its showing been censored by the Constitutional Tribunal of the Supreme Court of Justice. Any form of expression, including the simple protect of a citizen in the street or the comment of a housewife in a shopping mall is subject to the most severe repression.

The regime controls as much what is said as what cannot be said. At the initiative of Diosdado Cabello, vice-president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, at every public office, including the Maiquetía international airport, there is a huge sign that says "Don't talk badly of Chávez here."

The shutdown of television and radio stations has continued without pause, also the CONATEL "technical inspections" of radio and TV stations. The digital platform of the newspaper Tal Cual has been blocked for hours.

On August 11 CONATEL opened disciplinary proceedings against Venevisión and Televen, for "not giving coverage of the elections of the constituents that make up the Constituent National Assembly." Some print media, as a consequence of the refusal of the regime to sell them newsprint, have had to reduce the number of their pages, continue operating only in a digital form or cease their operations, which results not only in a problem of freedom of expression but also the loss of sources of employment.

CONATEL ordered the removal from the cable programming of the signals of international channels (such as CNN en español, El Tiempo TV, Caracol TV or Todo Noticias), because their editorial stance was not adjusted to the requirements of the "socialism of the 21st century." There continue pressures on the media to manage without too critical journalists, as is the case of the recent departure of Nelson Bocaranda from Unión Radio.

There continues to be the punishment of journalists, as is the case of César Miguel Rondón, who on arriving at the airport was denied being able to leave the country as, allegedly, his passport "had been declared to have been stolen." Two days earlier President Maduro had said that Rondón should be jailed.

Lawsuits against journalists and media have not lessened. Maduro threatened to sue Bloque de Armas, publisher of the newspaper 2001, for its June 8 page one. In a veiled threat, on July 17, Maduro accused of being "conspirators" and "coup plotters" the television channels Venevisión and Televen for broadcasting the declaration of a group of Latin American former presidents concerning the political situation.

Reports by organizations such as Espacio Público, Provea and IPYS, among others, say that there were committed numerous cases of physical attacks by police or military officers on journalists, reporters, photographers and cameramen in this period. They suffered beatings and frequently their equipment (cameras, microphones, cell phones, tablets, bulletproof vests, gasmasks or vehicles) have been destroyed or seized. In one case there have been identified with their last names the military authors of those attacks, it not being known of any legal investigation that has been started against them.

Those reports state that the public demonstrations of discontent in the face of inflation, food shortages and persecution have been suppressed in a brutal and bloody manner, leaving more than a hundred dead and thousands injured. In many cases there was special aversion by the police and military to journalists, who suffered the impact of tear-gas bombs, buckshot fired at close range, water launched by water tanks, nightstick beatings and kicks. A female journalist was sprayed with gas on her face by an official of the PNB and a National Guard officer ordered "go against the journalists."

On May 24 a witness reported how the National Guard fired at the press that was covering a demonstration in Bello Monte.

In many cases the police and National Guard have prevented journalists from being able to do their work. It is not allowed to take photos in certain zones, such as at police stations or in the presence of police at the Bello Monte morgue or the Department of Protection of Citizens' Rights. Neither may they get near the buildings of the Supreme Court or the National Electoral Council and at times they are not allowed to cover acts at the National Assembly. Several repoerters, photographers and cameramen have been expelled from press conferences or not admitted to them. Armed gangs have attacked the installations of newspapers and television and radio stations.

Many attacks upon the press carried out by civilians armed by the government have occurred in the presence of the National Guard and its complaisant look.

Numerous journalists have been arrested and submitted to military courts. Foreign journalists have been detained arbitrarily. Two French journalists, of the CAPA news agency, when they were about to return to their country were detained for 10 days. Entry to Venezuela was not allowed to Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata, when he sought to cover the elections of members of the Constituent National Assembly. Weeks later Chilean journalist Gabriela Donso of Reuters news agency was also denied entry to the country and was put on a plane flying to Panama. Journalist Anatoly Kumanaev of The Wall Street Journal was expelled from the Caracas Polyhedron and ordered to erase his recorded material. A Reuters news agency team was expelled from the press conference given by Maduro on August 19 "for broadcasting live."

As part of a lawsuit against the editors of Tal Cual, La Patilla and El Nacional a court sentenced La Patilla to pay Diosdado Cabello indemnity of 1 billion bolivars for having reproduced a news item from another media outlet (the Spanish newspaper ABC), in which Leamsy Salazar, a former collaborator of Cabello, indicated that this latter was understood to be involved in drug trafficking offenses.

Paradoxically to all this atmosphere of censorship President Maduro has proposed to the Constituent National Assembly adoption of a law against hatred and intolerance. The bill would punish hatred in general terms, without defining it, and goes beyond what is foreseen in Article 20 of the Civil and Political Pact, which prohibits "all advocating of national, racial or religious hatred that would constitute inciting to discrimination, hostility or violence." The regime thus seeks to prohibit hatred as such, reserving for itself the right to determine what constitutes hatred and what should be punished. Without a doubt this is another mechanism to censor and create self-censorship.

This link
contains a detailed report of the cases of violation of freedom of the press and of expression occurring in these last six moths in Venezuela.