Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern Regarding Restrictions in the Exercise of Fundamental Rights in Venezuela

September 14, 2016

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Washington, D.C – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression condemns the wave of threats, detentions, searches and prosecutions against parties of the opposition’s members, peaceful protestors and journalists that is taking place in the context of a series of restrictions to the exercise of fundamental rights imposed by Venezuela’s government against those who express support to the need for a recall referendum. Moreover, the IACHR regrets the massive dismissals of public officials for allegedly having signed a petition requesting a recall referendum.

The IACHR also expresses its concern for the decision made by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice that declared the nullity and lack of legal effectiveness of all decisions taken by the National Assembly. On September 5, 2016, a sentence of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court was published that claimed that “any action arising from the National Assembly results manifestly unconstitutional and, therefore, completely null and in lack of any legal validity and efficacy, including the laws being sanctioned as long as the disrespect to the Electoral Chamber continues”. The Constitutional Chamber claimed that the National Assembly is facing contempt for having installed three deputies of the Amazonian State who were suspended by the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Court while investigating appeals regarding their election.

The Inter-American system on Human Rights has established that citizens have the right to participate in the direction of public affairs by means of their freely elected representatives. In this sense, the statement released declaring the nullity of any decision made by the National Assembly, a branch of the State elected by the people’s vote, could be considered an undue restriction in the exercise of political rights and produce a series of affections to the proper functioning of the democratic system.

This judgement was announced in the context of a series of restrictions to the freedom of movement, of association, of pacific protest and freedom of expression in connection with peaceful protests and, particularly, the national march convened by parties of the opposition and social sectors for September 1, 2016. The national march was convened in support of the activation of a recall referendum for the term of office of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, as stipulated in Article 72 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The IACHR received information regarding obstacles being imposed to the freedom of movement for those willing to exercise their right to participate in public demonstrations by the establishment of military and intelligence controls as well as police officers placed in the highways and avenues of entry to the city of Caracas.

In addition to this, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN, for its Spanish acronym) detained political leaders of the opposition’s Voluntad Popular party, claiming they are allegedly “the major promoters of a conspiracy plan” against the Government.  On July 26th, a leader of the Voluntad Popular party, Daniel Ceballos, was transferred by SEBIN agents from house arrest to a prison. On August the 29th, the former student leader and member of the Voluntad Popular party, Yon Goicoechea, was also detained. On August 30th, agents belonging to the Intelligence Corps detained the leader of Avanzada Progresista party, Carlos Melo, while he was at the headquarters of Voluntad Popular party in Caracas. On September the 2nd the Mayor of the Municipality of Mario Brieceno Iragorry in Aragua State and leader of Voluntad Popular, Delson Guarate, was detained. He is accused of carrying out “the placement of explosive devices, having in his power weapons and fake dollars”. It has been claimed that these detentions were conducted outside the law, accompanied by the deprivation of communication and mistreatment.

According to the announcement of the Minister of Interior and Justice, general Gustavo Gonzales Lopez, the authorities are searching for the deputy of Zulia State and member of the Voluntad Popular party, Lester Toledo, to formally accuse him of the “crime of treason and the theft of items belonging to the Bolivarian National Armed Force”. The Minister explained that “their intentions of conducting a military coup” remain valid for the future protest to be conducted by the opposition.  According to information provided by senior public officials, 92 men of Colombian nationality were captured in poor communities in Caracas, for allegedly being part of a “campsite for paramilitaries and mercenaries”. In addition, at least 81 persons were detained during the protests having place on September the 1st. The IACHR was informed that some of the detained protestors were released without charges, while others were charged and taken to the court.

In addition, the IACHR expresses its concern regarding the limitations imposed to journalistic work during the protest carried out on September the 1st, as well as in other protests carried out against the Government.  These included detentions, threats, searches and initiation of criminal investigations against journalists, as well as the disappearance of a reporter for 36 hours after which it was informed he had been detained by the Intelligence Services, the deportation of several members of the international press and the denial of entry to Venezuela to other reporters from international and foreign media. The information received indicates that a number of journalists from the international media who travelled to cover the national protest held on September 1st were deported, and other were “denied their entry to the country” once they arrived at the airport. It was also informed that a series of threats were launched against journalists and media workers covering the event.  Additionally, on September the 3rd, journalist Braulio Jatar, director of digital media Reporte Confidencial, was detained by agents of the intelligence police and his house was searched after he published videos showing a protest against President Nicolas Maduro in Margarita Island. Braulio Jatar went missing for 36 hours until the SEBIN informed they had detained Jatar, who was deprived of communication with his family or lawyer. Reportedly, the journalist would have been charged with the crime of “Money Laundering”.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteur express deep concern for the alleged manipulation of the State’s punitive powers by State agents aiming to control, punish or block the free exercise of the rights of association, expression and political participation of Venezuelan opposition, protestors and journalists. The IACHR is particularly concerned about stigmatizing statements coming from senior Government officials that could be based on false accusations or baseless allegations, which preceded the detentions held in reprisal to the protest. The State’s punitive power cannot be used as a pretext to limit fundamental rights. Particularly, the State has the duty to guarantee that journalists and communicators carrying out their work are not detained, threatened, attacked or limited in any form regarding their rights just for being exercising their right to freedom of expression.

It is a State’s obligation to respect and guarantee the right of all citizens to participate in the public life of their country, to be part of public protests and to criticize or oppose the government, reinforcing democracy and political pluralism by these means.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship make a call to the Venezuelan State to cease all these detentions conducted outside the law and to assure that any detention is done with strict respect to the rights to freedom and physical integrity. In particular, the Commission urges the State not to proceed with baseless legal proceedings against political leaders, journalists and protestors.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 132/16