Freedom of Expression


High Time to Pull the Plug of Televised Reprisals Against Rights Defenders in Venezuela

July 22, 2015

Ginebra / Washington, D.C. - A group of United Nations and Inter-American human rights experts* today deplored the attempts to discredit and intimidate human rights defenders on Venezuela’s State-controlled television, in retaliation for their human rights activities and cooperation with UN and regional human rights bodies.

"It’s high time to pull the plug of this shameful and televised harassment of rights activists in Venezuela," the experts said. "We condemn what has become a clear pattern to intimidate and defame human rights defenders for merely promoting human rights in their country and for engaging with international and regional human rights bodies."

The experts drew attention to the systematical targeting of human rights defenders through the weekly TV programme ‘Con el Mazo Dando’, transmitted by the state network Venezolana de Televisión, including by disclosing and publishing personal information on their website. The programme is hosted by the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, who goes on air to make accusations against rights activists and civil society organisations with an apparent aim to intimidate them.
The experts recalled that the UN and Inter-American human rights bodies are charged to monitor Venezuela’s track record in implementing its international and regional human rights obligations, and as such the Government is expected to respect and defend the active participation by rights activists in those proceedings. "Any act to thwart such engagement, be it on- or off-air, directly contravenes international human rights law," they stressed.

"We call on the Venezuelan authorities to immediately cease the targeting of rights activists," they said. "Human rights defenders and civil society organisations must be able to carry out their human rights work and cooperate freely and safely with international and regional human rights mechanisms without fear of intimidation and reprisals."

Three recent incidents of unjustifiable televised reprisals

On 11 February and 18 March 2015, several human rights defenders and their organisations were named and slandered on ‘Con el Mazo Dando’ before and after their participation in the hearings about Venezuela before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in Washington DC in March 2015. On their return to Venezuela, they were followed and photographed at the airport without their consent. Later on 13 May 2015, the programme publicly shared the details of travel itineraries and private meetings planned by human rights defenders.

The TV-show continued to target human rights defenders following their participation in the June 2015 session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights examining Venezuela in Geneva. Some organisations were also falsely accused on Twitter by the managing director of the National Telecommunications Commission, William Castillo, for having received international funds to spread negative information about Venezuela. These accusations were subsequently repeated by various high-ranking officials of the Venezuelan Government.

On 1 July 2015, quoting from ‘cooperating patriots’, the programme singled out and made disparaging remarks against various civil society members and their organisations following their collaboration with the UN Human Rights Committee, during its review of the fourth periodic report of Venezuela on 29 and 30 June in Geneva.

(*) The UN experts: Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. The Inter-American human rights experts: José de Jesús Orozco, Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), which 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.