Freedom of Expression

Press Release R232/19

Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns that communicators Pedro Jaimes and Jesús Medina have served one year in prison in Venezuela without being convicted

September 18, 2019

Washington, D.C.- The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses severe concern over the prolonged detention in prison of communicators Pedro Jaimes and Jesús Medina in Venezuela based on norms that arbitrarily criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression, as established by the IACHR in its latest report on the human rights situation in Venezuela. Likewise, the Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns that none of the communicators has been brought before a judge and their health condition have worsened given the current detention conditions.

Jaimes, who has been issued precautionary measures by the IACHR, was arrested without a warrant by the SEBIN on May 10, 2018 when he was at home. After spending  33 days without communication at SEBIN he was charged with the offenses of interference with aeronautical operations, computer espionage, and revelation of political secrets, based on the fact that he published the trajectory of the presidential plane on an account on aeronautical issues (@aerometeo) on the social network Twitter. The publication, without comments or additions, reproduced a photo of an open and public website that daily publishes the trajectories of all airplanes that circulate in the airspace. During his detention, Jaimes would have been beaten on several occasions and one of his ribs was fractured. The preliminary hearing to examine the charges against him has been deferred 7 times.

On the other hand, photographer Jesús Medina, who was collaborating with different informative portals, was arrested on August 29, 2018 at Plaza Venezuela of the Caracas Metro, after making a report on the situation of the University Hospital of Caracas. Since then, he has been detained in the Ramo Verde military jail awaiting a judicial hearing, and various organizations have denounced the worsening of his physical and health condition. Initially, the crimes imputed to him were money laundering, fraudulent use against acts of the public administration, instigation to hatred, and association to commit crimes. However, when he was sentenced to pretrial detention, only the charges of "hate speech" and "criminal association" were maintained. To date, the oral trial against him has not started.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur and the IACHR have warned on various occasions about the use of vague and ambiguous criminal figures that do not meet the international law requirements to criminalize journalistic work, the defense of human rights, and expressions of criticism through social networks. Similarly, the IACHR in its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression established that prison sentences to sanction expressions on public officials or issues of public interest are contrary to the inter-American legal framework. "These processes in Venezuela aim to criminalize journalism, as well as complaints and expressions on social networks protected by the American Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments, this, together with the prolonged use of pretrial detention, has the goal of generating a broad chilling effect in Venezuela "said The Special Rapporteur Edison Lanza.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur and the IACHR had already expressed their grave concern about the provisions approved by the so-called National Assembly in Venezuela through the "Law Against Hate, for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance", which would have been approved to protect "peace, public tranquility, and the nation," and that established exorbitant criminal sanctions and granted powers to state agencies to censor traditional media and Internet platforms, as well as make it possible to imprison those who express themselves on the Internet, contradicting international standards on freedom of expression.

In both cases, the communicators should face a fair trial, enjoying their personal liberty, taking into account the type of crimes they are charged with, which are contrary to the international standards and the lack of due process that the IACHR has indicated occurs in cases of political detention in Venezuela.

The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur understand that according to Article 13.5 of the American Convention, States may sanction by law the discourse that advocates for violence or incites violence for discriminatory or hateful reasons, however, these norms cannot be drafted in ambiguous terms that prevent knowing what the prohibited conduct is, and they cannot be used against dissenting or critical voices.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the aim of encouraging the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given its fundamental role in consolidating and developing the democratic system.