Human Rights Watch Criticizes 'Tactics of an Authoritarian Regime'

Friday Human Rights Watch published a long piece critical of the government of Venezuela, saying it had adopted “tactics of an authoritarian regime.”

HRW director Jose Vivanco said “The Venezuelan government has openly embraced the classic tactics of an
authoritarian regime, jailing its opponents, muzzling the media, and
intimidating civil society.” He added “Any leaders genuinely concerned with the well-being of democracy in
Venezuela should send a clear message that these authoritarian practices
are unacceptable.”

The tactics Vivanco is referring to include opening fire on fleeing protesters, beatings, and a media blackout:

Human Rights Watch has received multiple reports from local human rights
advocates that Venezuelan security forces in Caracas and other parts of
the country have beaten or shot at unarmed protesters since February
12.

A video posted online by the newspaper Ultimas Noticias shows
uniformed police accompanied by men in civilian clothing in Caracas who
appear to be shooting live ammunition at fleeing protesters – among
them 24-year-old Bassil Da Costa, who is seen falling to the ground with
a fatal gunshot to the head.

The use of live ammunition by security forces would only be lawful
under international standards if their targets pose an imminent threat
to the life of or of injury to the security forces or third parties.
There is video
evidence of anti-government protesters engaging in acts of violence and
vandalism, including throwing rocks at police. But the government has
not provided, nor has Human Rights Watch been able to find after
reviewing dozens of videos posted online, footage showing
anti-government protesters carrying firearms or using lethal force
against security forces or third parties.

All available accounts from witnesses indicate that the majority of
protesters were peaceful, and those that engaged in violence or
vandalism did not carry firearms or use lethal force against security
forces or third parties.

The only person shot or killed last week who was not a protester was Juan “Juancho” Montoyo. He was a longtime member of a far left collectiva who was on hand riding a motorcycle and working with others to intimidate (and in some cases shoot) protesters. Last June Al Jazeera interviewed Montoyo who told them “Violence is a tool.”

Meanwhile, in Valencia this Tuesday, “eight protesters were shot, one fatally, when a group of men in civilian
clothes on motorcycles opened fire at demonstrators in Valencia.” The individual who was killed was Genesis Carmona, a young beauty queen who had been voted Miss Tourism last year. Conveniently, a longtime ally of President Maduro who is also a current government minister claims the shot that killed Carmona came from a fellow demonstrator.

In addition to the violence, Maduro’s government has engaged in a media blackout:

On February 11, William Castillo, director of CONATEL, the state
broadcasting authority, warned media outlets that news coverage of
violent incidents could violate the Venezuelan broadcasting law.
Castillo cited article 27 of the law, which the pro-Chávez National
Assembly passed in 2004 and modified in 2010. The article gives the
government broad powers to punish private media for broadcasting
material that – in the government’s estimation – “foments anxiety in the
population or threatens public order,” “denies the authority of the
legitimately constituted authorities,” or “incites or promotes hatred
and intolerance for religious [or] political reasons.” 

On February 12, the government ordered the country’s cable providers to
stop transmitting the international news channel NTN 24. President
Maduro said the next day that that the order had been a “state decision”
in response to the channel’s coverage of the protests, which he
characterized as an attempt to “transmit worries of a coup d’état.”

On February 13, President Maduro instructed Communications and
Information Minister Delcy Rodríguez to “adopt measures” against
correspondents of Agence France-Press for having “distorted the truth about the events of February 12.”

On February 15, the Venezuelan government restricted the ability of
Twitter users to send images, a representative of Twitter, Inc. told
Bloomberg News.

President Maduro also threatened to shut down CNN in the country if their reporting was not to his liking. This prompted at least one CNN reporter to leave the country.

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