ProtectDefenders.eu partners are concerned over the ongoing criminalisation, harassment, and stigmatisation facing human rights NGOs and human rights defenders.
On 14 January 2021 human rights defenders and humanitarian workers from humanitarian NGO Azul Positivo Johan Leon Reyes, Yordy Bermudez, Layners Gutierrez Diaz, Alejandro Gomez Di Maggio and Luis Ferrebuz were charged with alleged ‘fraudulent handling of cards;’, ‘criminal association’ and ‘money laundering’. The human rights defenders and members of Azul Positivo were denied access to their lawyers for two days after their detention. The human rights defenders were then presented before the Fourth Court of First Instance of the State of Zulia. The Court ratified the charges against five of the six defenders detained and ordered preventative detention measures against them.
In a separate incident, on 13 January 2021, during the broadcast of his weekly television program «Con el Mazo Dando», Mr. Diosdado Cabello, a deputy in the National Assembly of Venezuela, requested to open an investigation against Rafael Uzcátegui – general coordinator of NGO Venezuelan Program of Education Action in Human Rights (Provea) — for a message published on his account of the social network Twitter in which the general coordinator of Provea was critical of the criminalization of international cooperation by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). On the television set, Rafael Uzcátegui’s publication was hung on a panel, where the defender’s name and surname were clearly visible, and it was later crossed out with a «red marker”.
On 11 January 2021, ProtectDefenders.eu partners received information about about the release and continued criminalization of Vannesa Rosales in retaliation for her defense of sexual and reproductive rights. Vanessa Rosales is a defender of women’s rights, teacher, social worker and founder of the nucleus of the Open Studies Program of the Universidad Politécnica Territorial de Mérida (UPTM) in the areas of nursing, comprehensive health, accounting in community management, prevention of crime and criminology. On January 11, 2021, the Third Criminal Court of Control of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of the State of Mérida, granted alternative precautionary measures to the deprivation of liberty from house arrest to Vannesa Rosales, who had been detained in the Mérida Penitentiary Center since 12 October 2020. That day, officials from the Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC) raided her home without a court order in the community of Pueblo Nuevo, Mérida, and proceeded to arrest her, accusing her of providing information and medications for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy. to a 13-year-old girl who had become pregnant as a result of rape and whose life was at serious risk due to pregnancy.
According to RSF, Venezuela’s president since 2013, Nicolás Maduro persists in trying to silence independent media outlets and keep news coverage under constant control. The climate for journalists has been extremely tense since the onset of a political and economic crisis in 2016, and is exacerbated by Maduro’s frequent references to “media warfare” in an attempt to discredit national and international media criticism of his administration. Harassment of independent media has intensified since 2017, and the country is ranked 147 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.