Venezuelan journalist has been in prison for a week after courts revoke his house arrest

By Yenibel Ruiz

Venezuelan journalist Leocenis García, founder and editor of the now-defunct editorial group 6to Poder, has been in prison for a week after his house arrest was revoked on July 4 and he was transferred to the jail of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN for its acronym in Spanish).

“The Maduro regime is revoking my house arrest and is taking me to prison again. Continue the fight. Down with the dictatorships. We will return,” the journalist reported from his Twitter account while at the same time transmitting what was happening from the video streaming platform Periscope.

According to the video, the measure was taken due to the “failure to respond to the court’s call for the start of the oral and public trial,” El Nuevo Herald reported.

However, Yissel Suárez, García’s lawyer, said that before he was transferred to prison, she went to court to say that the public trial could not move forward because the prosecutor on the case had been recused, according to Tal Cual.

We don’t understand under what causes the court decided to revoke the house arrest, which is only possible under three arguments: if the requirement to present himself is violated, which is not given, he refuses to respond to the court’s call, and he is absent from the place of detention. We denounce, before the superiorities, the abuses that some judges commit,” the lawyer said, according to Agencia Carabobeña de Noticias.

Miguel Méndez Fabbiani, the spokesman of ProCiudadanos which was founded by García, said that once the journalist was admitted to SEBIN, he was kept incommunicado and without access to defense lawyers. He explained that the isolation included no contact with other prisoners or reading material, according to ProCiudadanos.

In relation to the revocation of García’s house arrest, Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, expressed his concern and wrote on Twitter “It is necessary to respect freedom of the press in #Venezuela…enough with arbitrary detentions and imprisonment for political reasons. This erodes democracy.”

Leocenis García: a long history

This is not the first time the editor of the now-defunct 6to Poder has engaged in a hunger strike, been detained or been charged with a crime.

García has been deprived of freedom five times and has started three hunger strikes, according to a 2015 interview published by noticierodigital.

In 2007, he was accused of defamation (difamación y injuria) after denouncing, in various media outlets, alleged corruption cases linked to state-owned oil and natural gas company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.

The following year, he was “accused of damage to property and conspiracy” for an event that occurred on the premises of a regional newspaper, according to Tal Cual. For this crime, he was sent to a national prison for more than one year without trial. He then began a hunger strike in 2010 and was finally released.

In 2011, the journalist was accused of “public incitement to hatred” after publishing a “photomontage in the weekly 6to Poder that showed the faces of government leaders on the bodies of cabaret dancers in ‘a show’ under the orders of the late President Hugo Chávez,” according to EFE.

In June 2013, García declared a hunger strike outside the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), for the suspension of the TV signal of the Ateltv. According to Garcia, the government took the station off of air when 6to Poder tried to buy it, Informe 21 reported.

On Aug. 1, 2013, García was accused of money laundering after National Assembly member Julio Chávez, on behalf of the government, accused him of having put, in 2012, $5 million USD in a Swiss bank account despite having reported a figure below that amount in his financial statements.

García denied the allegations and argued that it was part of a government-driven persecution, according to EFE and AFP.

Subsequently, his bank accounts were frozen, which led to the closure of his media group: weekly 6to Poder, El Comercio, 6toPoderWeb, Revista Usex, 6to Poder Datos and 6to Poder Radio.

“After this economic strangulation implemented by the federal government, through its National Assembly members, ordered the freezing of accounts of Grupo 6to Poder, today we must close this media company because we cannot pay wages, goods and services or the printing of media like the newspaper El Comercio and the weekly 6to Poder,” the director of 6to Poder said on Aug. 5, 2013, according to El Universal.

Later, García started a hunger strike, calling for his freedom: “My detention curtails my freedom of expression, free enterprise, the right to work and threats the employment of hundreds of workers of Grupo 6to Poder, and the normal development of the editorial activities of our group,” García said in a statement, according to laverdad.com.

After 52 days on strike, García was taken to the hospital due to his poor health, according to El Universal. After recuperating, he was transferred to his home under probation, Informe 21 reported.

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.