Venezuelan Govt. Continues to Harass Press Amid Worsening Human Rights Crisis

By Mark Browne | September 13, 2016 | 7:25pm EDT
Detained Venezuelan journalist Braulio Jatar (Photo: Reporte Confidencial)

Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – The Venezuelan journalist Braulio Jatar, jailed after he reportedly posted a video online of a confrontation between angry citizens and President Nicolas Maduro, could face a long time behind bars as the human rights crisis in the country worsens, according to an Amnesty International official.

“There is a high risk he will remain in detention,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, the group’s Americas director, told CNSNews.com.

The Maduro government has “co-opted” the judiciary to attack its opponents, she said, noting that students detained after anti-government protests last year were still sitting in jail awaiting trial.

“We are very concerned that we are seeing another case of someone who is being detained for politically motivated reasons,” Guevara-Rosas said. “The detention of opposition leaders is putting the country in a very serious human rights crisis.”

“The situation is very critical given the humanitarian crisis the country is facing.”

Jatar, director of the news website Reporte Confidencial (Confidential Report) on Margarita Island, was seized Sept. 3 by the Venezuelan intelligence service and accused of money laundering, according to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Authorities arrested Jatar on his way to work a day after a large crowd of angry citizens banging pots and pans confronted and then chased Maduro as he left an official event on foot in the island’s small town of Villa Rosa.

According to Foreign Policy, Jatar posted online a video of the confrontation which he had filmed on his cell phone.

The government initially denied it had detained Jatar, finally acknowledging his arrest 12 hours after he was secretly transferred from Margarita to a jail in Caracas, Guevara-Rosas said.

His family and lawyers still do not have physical access to him and there’s a “question mark as to what is going to happen,” she added.

Jatar holds both Chilean and Venezuelan citizenship, and the Chilean government demanded that the authorities reveal his location and respect “minimal norms,” the BBC reported.

Brazil also condemned his detention, calling it a “clear” failure by Maduro’s government to respect fundamental liberties.

While Jatar remains in custody, 30 people arrested following the confrontation with Maduro on Margarita have all been released, the BBC reported.

Jatar’s arrest follows a longstanding pattern of harassing journalists and denying freedom of expression that began when Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, was first elected in 1999, according to Ricardo Trotti, executive director of the Inter American Press Association.

“This is not new. It’s been like this since the beginning of the Chavismo era,” Trotti said by phone from Miami.

“It’s not getting worse, because it’s always been like that,” he said.

According to the IAPA, the Maduro government denied entry to numerous foreign journalists seeking to cover a massive Sept. 1 march in Caracas organized by the opposition, including reporters from NPR, the Miami Herald, Al Jazeera and the French newspaper Le Monde.

IAPA said the Colombian television broadcaster NTN24 “complained that its news, technical and production team in Venezuela has received verbal threats from self-styled ‘pro-government collectives.’”

The publishers of the Venezuelan newspapers El Nacional, Tal Cual, and LaPatilla were all convicted of defamation after reporting that the president of Venezuela's National Assembly was being investigated by U.S. authorities for drug trafficking, according to Trotti.

El Nacional publisher Miguel Otero is in self-exile in Miami.

“He knows he is going to be arrested and thinks he doesn’t have any chance with the judicial system” in Venezuela, Trotti said, describing Venezuela as “one of the worst Latin American countries” for journalists.

In Mexico, Trotti said, the problem is censorship enforced by organized crime. In Venezuela, it’s the state.

“That’s the big difference between the two.”

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