The SRFOE expresses concern over repression against journalists and deterioration of civic space in Venezuela

May 16, 2024

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the increase in repressive acts against journalists and members of civil society in Venezuela and warns about the deterioration of civic space. This Office calls on the State to respect and guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which are indispensable for the reestablishment of a democratic culture and respect for human rights in the country.

In 2024, the Rapporteurship has continued to document severe restrictions to the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela. In particular, there are reports of judicial harassment, arbitrary detentions, restrictions on access to information, closure of media outlets and stigmatizing statements by high-ranking government officials against those who investigate and actively participate in matters of public and political interest.

According to public information, between January and April 2024, approximately 128 aggressions against journalists, activists, human rights defenders, media and civil society organizations were recorded, as well as at least 18 arrests of persons for exercising their freedom of expression.

The Rapporteurship has followed with particular concern reports of arrest and search warrants, as well as the initiation of criminal investigations directed against at least 7 journalists and communicators, along with other political activists, social leaders and members of civil society. Of particular concern are reports on the accusations of the Attorney General of the Republic against journalists of the digital portal, whom he accused of belonging to an "extortive media structure", as well as the arrest of journalist Carlos Julio Rojas for allegedly committing the crimes of terrorism, conspiracy, instigation, association to commit a crime and attempted assassination. According to reports from civil society, these events are part of the current electoral period in Venezuela and of a new wave of repression against freedom of expression in the country.

This Office also expresses its concern about the closure of media outlets, which is being used as a strategy to intimidate and silence critical voices. According to public information, in the last 20 years some 400 media outlets have been closed, including press, radio, television channels and digital platforms, of which at least 285 are radio stations. So far in 2024, 13 radio stations have been closed in the states of Apure, Bolivar, Carabobo, Distrito Capital, Lara, Portuguesa, Trujillo and Zulia.

In March, the SRFOE became aware of the complaint against the international media DW Español for alleged defamation and promotion of hate propaganda. According to public reports, the channel was expelled from the list of cable stations in the country and labeled as a "Nazi station". The SRFOE warns that the systematic closure of media in Venezuela would be limiting the access of citizens to reliable information from independent sources, giving rise to zones of media silence.

Among other facts that concern the SRFOE, on April 2, the National Assembly approved in first discussion the "Law against Fascism, Neo-Fascism and Similar Expressions", which would empower the State to impose sanctions of up to 12 years in prison to "those who promote violent actions or make apology of fascism", as well as to ban organizations, revoke media licenses, block digital content and politically disqualify people considered "fascist". The SRFOE warns that the wording of this bill is very similar to that of the "Law against Hate" and could generate limitations to the exercise and guarantee of freedom of expression. Likewise, the SRFOE became aware of a new version of the "Law for the Control, Regularization, Performance and Financing of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Related" approved by the Internal Policy Commission of the National Assembly and which would be pending a second discussion.

This Office recalls that the use of State power and ordinary institutional mechanisms to pressure, threaten and punish social communicators and the media according to their lines of information is an attack against freedom of expression. The independent and critical press constitutes a fundamental element for the validity of the other freedoms that make up the democratic system and the rule of law.

In view of the above facts, the Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterates its call to the State of Venezuela to respect and guarantee the right to freedom of expression, especially of journalists and communicators, who contribute to public debate. This implies, among others, refraining from: intimidating and disqualifying journalistic work from official voices; using criminal law to eliminate or appease criticism or dissent; and passing laws or regulations that arbitrarily limit the right to association, freedom of expression and participation in matters of public interest, essential elements to guarantee an open civic space.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

No. R106/24

3:56 PM