Venezuela sees more violations to freedom of expression in 2019 than in the last eight years

2019 was the year with “the greatest historical setback” in terms of the deterioration of freedom of information and expression in Venezuela, according to the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) Venezuela.

In its 2019 annual report, “Voces en el paredón” (Voices in the firing line), the organization recorded 1,032 violations to freedom of expression and access to public information for journalists and citizens.

There is a pattern of aggression in the country whose objective is to “silence” what is happening in Venezuela, preventing the media from reporting on human rights violations and other events, IPYS Venezuela said. This pattern is accentuated when Venezuelans take to the streets to protest, it added.

The main aggressors against freedom of expression in the country were the Executive through the armed forces and the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), with its regulation of radio and television content and digital sites, both national and international with a signal in the country, according to the report.

During 2019, there were 326 aggressions and direct attacks on journalists and the media, 76 journalists – including 28 foreign correspondents – were affected by arbitrary detentions, there were 81 limitations on access to public information, 70 cases of prior censorship, 21 administrative legal actions, 30 radio and television content regulations, 15 cases of internal censorship, four cases of impunity and three cases of indirect censorship.

Regarding arbitrary detentions, these were aimed at journalists covering topics related to political opposition, humanitarian aid and social protests over the precariousness of public services. In January alone, 17 journalists were detained.

The detentions directly involved police, military and intelligence forces verbally assaulting and intimidating journalists, attacking and confiscating their work equipment, according to the report.

One of the most emblematic detentions, according to the organization, was that of journalist Luis Carlos Díaz. He was detained by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) in Caracas on March 11. They tried to accuse him of "cybercrime" for allegedly being part of the plan that caused a cyber outage nationwide in Venezuela on March 7, 2019 that lasted 4 days. He was later accused of public instigation and forbidden to speak publicly about his case and from leaving the country.

IPYS Venezuela asked the government for a regulatory framework that protects freedom of information and the diversity of voices in the country, without threats or pressure.

Between May and June, journalists had restricted access to ordinary sessions of the National Assembly. The measure was executed by agents of the Sebin and the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB).

During 2019, the Venezuelan organization also recorded 191 alerts of restrictions against digital rights in the country, more than double that in 2018 when they recorded 69.

Of those that occurred in 2019, 40 were attacks on servers of informative sites and intimidating actions towards the press, 38 blockades of news sites and social media platforms and nine restrictions on free expression online. The informative sites El Pitazo, Efecto Cocuyo, Armando.info and Runrun.es were among the most affected by these measures.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also reported in its 2019 report on human rights in Venezuela about the constant attack on independent media and their national and social media platforms.

International platforms such as Google, YouTube, Microsoft Bing and Facebook suffered intermittent blocks from Internet service operators in the country such as Movistar and the National Telephone Company of Venezuela (Cantv).

In general, the majority of attacks (61%) occurred in the first half of the year. According to the report, the year 2019 was characterized by constant socio-political conflicts and a deep human rights crisis at the national level.

The categories of the report detail the repression against media outlets and any type of dissident expression in social networks, the most frequent type of aggressor and the type of aggressions most used against the press. They also describe attacks directed specifically at a journalist or media outlet, the lack of access to public information and state entities, the opacity and disinformation of the government, digital authoritarianism and censorship actions themselves.

The report explains the situation of attacks on freedom of expression in the states of the country. Caracas, Táchira, Lara, Apure Zulia, Mérida, Bolívar and Falcón stand out among the most affected.

The report concludes with four proposals from IPYS Venezuela that seek greater protection for freedom of expression and the exercise of journalism in the country. These recommendations are addressed to the State, journalists and their unions, and the media.

Protect journalists and human rights defenders who are threatened or have been victims of intimidation and attacks so they can continue their work. Ensure and improve access to public information and open data by creating a law on access to public information. Guarantee and protect the freedom of expression and information on the internet through digital security mechanisms, and recognize the human right to access the internet. Finally, it proposes the creation of training programs for journalists and about digital rights.