Freedom of expression and of the press is under attack in Venezuela. The Government is cracking down on any perceived opposition. The ongoing humanitarian crisis has made these responses more brutal, as food becomes scarce and desperation grows.
Even discussing poverty is taboo. In 2015, the government stopped publishing statistics about poverty in the country and attributes Venezuela’s problems to a supposed ‘economic war’ instigated by the United States. The government blames the opposition for causing chaos and accuses them of colluding with the United States. Brutal attacks on opposition protests in 2017 led to more than 120 deaths, most of them at the hands of security forces or government-backed vigilante groups known as "colectivos". During the protests thousands of demonstrators were arrested, with almost a fifth then subjected to humiliating treatment or torture. Officials use terms such as "terrorists" or "armed insurgents” to describe protestors. Human rights activists such as Theresly Malavé are the subject of government-backed threats and intimidation. With paper scarce in Venezuela, the government frequently prevents critical newspapers from buying in the paper they need to print their editions and also cuts off electricity to critical radio stations
At universities and other educational centres, academic autonomy is being replaced by political control. Students have been expelled simply for watching a television station that was not the State-owned channel. Hundreds of students were detained during last year’s protests, and 17 university professors were arrested for criticising the government, with some turned over to military courts. Faced with accusations of “disturbing public order” or “threatening the revolution”, Venezuelans are afraid of airing their views on social media. Popular Twitter user Pedro Jaimes was arrested and detained for merely tweeting the flight path of President Maduro.
The case of the Lorent Saleh is instructive. Saleh, a student activist, was detained in 2014 and accused of plotting to overthrow the government. His court hearing has been deferred 44 times. Kept in solitary confinement at La Tumba, Saleh occupies a small underground cell where the lights are never turned off, and prisoners are unable to see sunlight or breath fresh air. As of 5th July 2018, it has been 50 days since anything has been heard about him. Despite the fact that a few political prisoners were conditionally released this year, there are hundreds like Saleh of whom we hear nothing.
The international community should do everything it can to support freedom of expression and freedom of the press. At a time of acute crisis, these freedoms are vital to Venezuela’s democracy.
More information on the Venezuela Campaign can be found on their website.