New wave of threats targets Venezuelan journalists, media workers

By Alejandro Martínez

Several Venezuelan cartoonists, journalists, writers and artists have been the target of a series of threats through Twitter, telephone and text messages, according to news portal Noticias 24. They began after a number of anonymous users spread the victims' personal contact information, said the Press and Society Institute in Venezuela (Ipys in Spanish).

Cartoonist Rayma Suprani, writer Leonardo Padrón, comedian Laureano Márquez, TV host Mariela Celis and journalists Francisco Bautista, Ibeyise Pacheco, Nitu Pérez Osuna, Mary Montes, Milagros Socorro, Berenice Gómez and Alfredo Federico Ravell – all critical of the Venezuelan government and regular commentators on traditional and social media – have received anonymous death threats and insults demanding that they stop their criticisms, Ipys Venezuela said in a press release.

"My cellphone began receiving an avalanche of text messages coming from several phone numbers, the messages contained personal insults and terrible threats against me, false accusations with a political tone and the demonizing of my work as an opinion journalist and illustrator," told Suprani to Ipys. Suprani is a cartoonist with newspaper El Universal who has received threats in the past and has denounced the lack of progress in the investigations on those incidents.

Meanwhile, Padrón told Ipys that for several days in a row he received messages like: “Now you're going to wish that Chávez didn't die" and "Your worse than Carlos Andrés Pérez (former president of Venezuela) dirty! Traitor! Savage."

Some of the victims have decided to change their phone number, the director of Ipys Venezuela Marianela Balbi told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

The wave of intimidations began on March 15, after Twitter user @revoHCF spread the personal phone numbers of the victims, who also suspect that their contact information was shared through a series of text messages, Ipys said.

Last Friday Suprani filed a complaint with the country's attorney general's office, El Universal reported. The other victims are also expected to file their own complaints in the following days, Ipys said.

Balbi said it's the first time that Ipys documents a series of threats like this.

“This is something that had not occurred at this level," she said. “What calls our attention is that (the threats) ocurred in a group."

In 2012, Ipys Venezuela registered 21 cyber-attacks and 78 violations against the integrity of journalists and media workers. This year, the organization has reported 25 violations against the integrity of journalists and eight cyber-attacks.

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.