WASHINGTON/GENEVA (26 April 2017) : Two experts on freedom of expression of the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned today the practice of censorship and internet blocking in Venezuela, as well as the detention, attacks and stigmatization of journalists and media workers covering the recent protests in the country.
“We urge the Government to immediately release all those who have been detained for their journalistic work and for the exercise of their freedom of expression,” stated the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza.
The special rapporteurs also condemned the censorship and blocking of information both in traditional media and on the internet. “A large part of televised media is under government control, while the private sector operates with restrictions due to expired licenses that public authorities have refused to renew in more than two years,” they pointed out.
“Even under a state of emergency, the regulation as well as limitation or restrictions on web-sites and television signals transmitted over the internet are disproportionate and incompatible with international standards,” affirmed the experts.
“Prior to and following the recent disruption of the constitutional and democratic order denounced by international mechanisms, the space for critical voices of journalists, civil society representatives, human rights defenders and members of the political opposition has continuously deteriorated,” the experts warned.
Last August, the experts expressed their concern at “measures that considerably increased the pressure against media and limited its ability to operate independently.”
Detentions and attacks against journalists
According to reports, at least twelve Venezuelan and international journalists have been detained following the recent events. They have been released after being detained for several hours or, in some cases, a few days. One of the cases that have been reported is that concerning the journalist Yonnathan Guédez, who has now been detained for several days.
The experts also underlined that in an unprecedented act, the journalist Braulio Jatar continues to be detained since September 2016, after having distributed a video that showed individuals protesting against President Nicolás Maduro in Isla de Margarita, in the eastern part of the country.
Censorship and internet blockings
Various sources of information reported that at least three online platforms offering news and information of public interest in Venezuela – including VPI TV, Vivo Play and Capitolio TV –had been blocked by private internet service providers, following orders by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel).
The decision to block the three online platforms was due to their coverage of anti-government protests across the country, which traditional radio and television media decided not to cover. Following these events, new acts of censorship have occurred, such as a prohibition imposed on pay-per-view TVs to provide access the channel CNN. Other international media platforms, such as TN from Argentina and El Tiempo and NTN 24 from Colombia, have either suffered interruptions to their transmissions or have had their signals suspended.
“Conatel’s arbitrary orders to suspend the signals of subscriber television channels and of the internet restrict the freedom of users to seek, receive and impart information, application or service of any kind, and therefore constitute a form of censorship,” the UN and the IACHR Rapporteurs emphasized.
Likewise, websites of non-governmental organizations and of media platforms reported that they had received online attacks aimed at overloading their servers or taking them down.
Mr. David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expressionin August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
Mr. Edison Lanza (Uruguay) was appointed as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in July 2014 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defence of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.
UN Human Rights, country page: Venezuela