July 29, 2017
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the new measures taken by the Government of Venezuela to prevent the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and to prohibit the exercise of the right to protest and peaceful assembly in the context of the electoral process convened on July 30, 2017 for the National Constituent Assembly. The Office of the Special Rapporteur urgently calls on the Venezuelan State to discontinue these measures and to adjust its action to international human rights standards.
An electoral process of this nature, which seeks the adoption of a new Constitution and its withdrawal has been requested by millions of Venezuelans, opposition parties, civic and academic associations, as well as member states of the Organization of American States, cannot be carried out under restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly which would arbitrarily prevent the wide dissemination of all political opinions.
Arbitrary Restrictions to the Exercise of Journalism
On the morning of July 28, immigration officials would have denied entry to the country to the Argentine investigative journalist Jorge Lanata because he did not have a journalist visa. On that occasion, he would have been held incommunicado at Caracas airport facilities for several hours and questioned by officers of the Army and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) until he was deported.
The incident would have taken place a day after Portuguese reporters Luis Garriapa and Odacir Junior, of Sociedade Independente de Comunicação (SIC), were declared inadmissible on Venezuelan territory by the Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Aliens (SAIME) for allegedly not meeting the requirements established for legal entry into the country. Also, on July 26, the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico denied accreditation and visa to work in the country to the Mexican journalists Lourdes Murguía and Antonio Mandujano, of the television channel Imagen televisión.
These events are in addition to the cases of at least 6 foreign journalists expelled from Venezuela in 2017.
Likewise, on July 27, it was made public that the National Electoral Council (CNE) would have denied credentials to press organizations of local significance such as Correo del Caroní and El Pitazo.
Freedom of expression protects the right of every person to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, without borders. Given the important role of control played by journalists and the media in the democratic system, this Office of the Special Rapporteur has been emphatic in stating that journalists should not be required to be licensed or registered to carry out their work.
The accreditation and registration schemes of journalists are only appropriate if they are necessary to provide privileged access to places or events, such schemes must be supervised by independent bodies and decisions on this accreditation, having a fair procedure, based on clear, reasonable criteria, transparent and previously published. In addition, decisions on accreditation must be neutral to content and cannot discriminate based on the editorial line or type of coverage.
Protest: prohibition, criminalization, and militarization
On July 27, the Minister of the Interior, Justice, and Peace, Major General Néstor Reverol, announced the prohibition throughout the Venezuelan national territory of "public demonstrations and meetings, concentrations of persons or any similar act that may disturb the normal development of the electoral process" The ban extends for five days, from July 28 to August 1. The General announced that he had ordered the implementation of a "National Plan of Patrolling with Active Containment," which includes "intelligence actions, patrolling, and immediate reaction to address any incidents that occur before, during, and after the electoral process," including the establishment of 96 places for prosecution of electoral crimes and crimes of a military nature, in accordance with the provisions of the Decree of the National Security Law. He also indicated that during the electoral period the Strategic Operational Command of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (CEOFANB) will be in charge and will have operational control of all state and municipal civilian police units.
These measures were announced after four months of protest in Venezuela, in which at least 113 people have been killed, likewise massive arrests and opening proceedings in military criminal jurisdiction against demonstrators and political and social leaders have been registered.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that, in democracy, States must act on the basis of the lawfulness of public protests or demonstrations and on the assumption that they do not constitute a threat to public order. This implies a focus on strengthening political participation and building higher levels of citizen participation, with streets and plazas as privileged places for public expression.
In this sense, restrictions on the means, place, and time to the exercise the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must conform to the strict criteria of legality, necessity, and proportionality. General prohibitions on the exercise of the right of persons to participate in peaceful protests are inherently disproportionate and excessive, and cannot serve as a basis for monitoring, arresting, and submitting civil or military criminal proceedings to demonstrators or social leaders for the sole reason of expressing their opinions on a governmental policy or measure.
Likewise, this office reiterates that in the area of social protest management, the participation of military and armed forces should be excluded. States must have civilian police corps with exclusive competence in monitoring and preserving the safety of all persons under their jurisdiction, especially in the operations of management of public demonstrations.
Finally, the Office of the Special Rapporteur renews its rejection to violence in the context of protests and calls on the Venezuelan State to guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in accordance with its international human rights obligations.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to stimulate a hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.