Rojas was arrested at his home in Caracas on 21 March by Bolivarian National Police Special Action Forces officers. The officers apparently said they were looking into a presumed COVID-19 case. They later, however, referred to tweets Rojas had published, according to a statement made by the journalist before being held incommunicado. In addition to the arrest, the officers confiscated equipment associated with Rojas’s journalism work.
Rojas’s parents were also detained, but were released after several hours. When the journalist’s parents attempted to visit him in detention on 22 March, the authorities denied knowledge of his whereabouts. On the afternoon of 22 March, Rojas’s parents, with assistance from the Venezuelan National Press Workers’ Union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa de Venezuela, SNTP), determined that he was being held at a Special Action Forces headquarters building.
On the evening of 23 March, the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público, MP) charged Rojas with public incitement and hate speech during a hearing in which the journalist was represented by a public defender assigned to him rather than his own trusted lawyers. Rojas’s lawyers were not informed of the hearing despite being present all day at the tribunal headquarters for the specific purpose of attending it. The judge called for four guarantors for Rojas’s release on bail. Although the names of guarantors were submitted to the public defender’s office, no decision has been made regarding the journalist’s release and, as such, he remains in custody.
There have also been several other cases of journalists who are reporting on the pandemic in Venezuela experiencing repression by the authorities.
Freedom of expression representatives for the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human rights and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have noted that in the current context of the pandemic “the right of access to information means that governments must be making exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists. Journalism serves a crucial function at a moment of public health emergency, particularly when it aims to inform the public of critical information and monitors government actions.”
We, the IFEX-ALC member organisations, demand that the Venezuelan authorities:
- Release journalist Darvinson Rojas and drop the charges against him.
- Investigate and punish those responsible for the human rights violations committed against Rojas.
- Stop the repressive and criminalising actions that have been undertaken against Darvinson Rojas and other journalists in retaliation for their reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.
IFEX-ALC, which forms part of the global IFEX network, is comprised of 24 organisations in 15 Latin American and Caribbean countries dedicated to defending freedom of expression and press freedom.
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Source: MEDIA FEED