IPYS Venezuela says 2015 is the most critical year for freedom of expression in the country since 2002

In 2015, Venezuela saw the highest number of violations to freedom of expression and right to information since 2002, according to a recent annual report from the Press and Society Institute (IPYS for its initials in Spanish) Venezuela.

The organization also recorded a steady increase in the number of violations in the last four years. “200 alerts were counted in 2012, 284 in 2013, 341 in 2014 and 391 in 2015,” IPYS published in its report.

According to the organization, these figures show that 1,016 cases of violations to freedom of expression have occurred since Nicolás Maduro assumed the presidency of the country –  between January and March 2013, after the death of his predecessor Hugo Chávez – and then from his democratic election in April 2013 to the present.

Journalists remain the most abused in their rights to freedom of expression, making up 50 percent of the reported cases, according to the report. Human rights activists in the country were the second most-affected group.

Last year, Venezuela saw 214 physical attacks against journalists and affronts to the media, 195 cases of abuse of state power toward communications, 84 limitations to access of public information, 31 cases of internal censorship in the media, 8 cases related to laws that hinder the freedom of expression and 6 cases of prior censorship.

Incidents of censorship of the media, on the part of the government, also increased. Principally, these were attacks against journalists in the streets, concealment of official figures and actions of criminalization against journalists, the report added. This hampered investigations and reporting in the Venezuelan press.

“Of the total cases reported in 2015, 68 percent, or 265, were linked to public authorities. The main perpetrator was the executive power, which totaled 187 cases of violations against freedom of expression, while the legislature followed with 57, the judiciary with 11 and the electoral power with 10,” the report said.

IPYS Venezuela said that President Maduro had made 14 offensive statements, and that the former president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, uttered another 18 in the same sentiment. According to the annual report, these statements were “accusations, insults and threats” against sectors that they considered dissidents.

Additionally, the highest rates of violations to freedom of expression occurred in June and December 2015, according the study, months in which the primary elections of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the parliamentary elections of the National Assembly occurred, respectively.

In another 2015 report from IPYS about censorship and self-censorship by journalists and media in the country, “Journalism in quicksand,” the organization recorded the perception of 227 journalists and press workers on the subject. The survey concluded that the State is perceived as the main censor in Venezuela.

Based on IPYS Venezuela’s monitoring, the violations to freedom of expressions in 2015 were recorded in all 24 states of the country, compared to the two previous years in which only some of the states registered violations.

According to IPYS Venezuela, the newsprint crisis is a method of abuse of power by the state, especially during the first four months of 2016 and with the announcement in January of Complejo Edtorial Alfredo Maneiro, the sole importer of paper and other press supplies. This reduced the allocation of newsprint by 40 percent, or about 400 tons, according to official information.

Other facts that the organization consider to be most worrying this year are the sentence for defamation and injuria against David Natera Febres, director of the newspaper Correo del Caroní, and the closure of 82-year-old newspaper El Carabobeño’s print edition due to lack of newsprint.

It was four months of abuse of power, censorship, and application of regressive standards for journalism and the right of citizens to be informed,” the organization published on its digital site.

For World Press Freedom Day, Maduro was part of the list of “12 enemies of press freedom” developed by nonprofit organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in French).

The list emphasized that currently, in Venezuela, there are 22 directors of media outlets that are forbidden to leave the country, a shortage of newsprint, the ransacking of newsrooms and a newspaper director sentenced to four years in prison for alleged defamation, among other restrictions on freedom of the press.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.