Wuilly Arteaga, a 23-year-old violinist known for playing the national anthem during protests in Venezuela, told reporters Thursday that the military subjected him to beatings, burnings, and forced him to watch soldiers rape a protester during his extended time behind bars.
Arteaga also claims a video released on state television this week, which shows Arteaga stating that the police were treating him fairly, was recorded under duress and selectively edited to piece together sentences that he did not say.
Arteaga was arrested on July 17, when the socialist government claimed he had engaged in violent acts against the military. Arteaga denies the charges, insisting that he was merely playing his violin as he typically does when the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) attacked the protesters.
In remarks to the press Arteaga recounted a detailed account of his ordeal, which spanned from July 17 until his release this week, and explained that soldiers beat him and shoved him into a military vehicle along with three other protesters, one a woman. The woman, he told reporters, they forced on her back “and began raping her in the tank” in front of him. He said they later blindfolded him and “tortured” him for 20 minutes, but he could not see who was torturing him.
Arteaga noted that they later beat him so severely that he lost his hearing in his right ear. Soldiers, he added, also burned his hair to entertain themselves. He says soldiers kept him in solitary confinement at a military facility upon transporting him there until they needed him to film videos in which he appeared to be praising the care they gave him in prison.
“They did not let me change my clothes and made me film every day,” Arteaga told reporters, vowing that he would continue to protest “until each and every one of you is free,” referring to the nation’s over 600 known political prisoners.
Arteaga was freed Tuesday on the condition that he would not attend protests.
His statements regarding the videos of him in prison followed the broadcasting of these videos on Con el Mazo Dando (“Hitting with the Mallet”), a state television program hosted by high-ranking socialist official and suspected cocaine trafficker Diosdado Cabello. The video shown on Cabello’s program appeared clearly edited mid-sentence, creating the impression that the subjects of sentences were spliced onto the objects of other phrases. In this way, the video makes it appear as if Arteaga insulted opposition leader María Corina Machado by claiming she had not done enough to release him, though the sentence suspiciously cuts off and restarts after Machado’s name.
“It is false that María Corina did not support me,” Arteaga said on Thursday. “In that sentence I was referring to someone else, she has always been with me.”
A similar edit occurs when Arteaga appears to say “anything they are saying that they [the military] are treating him badly … is false,” with a clear break in the video between “badly” and “is.”
Arteaga did criticize some in the anti-Maduro opposition following his release, though his statements in freedom appeared to support Machado, not the socialists who make up the leadership of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the main opposition coalition. “Over 100 dead, still a ton of young people imprisoned, people suffering in the streets and the leaders are still fighting about elections?” he asked. “The real heroes are dead, they are in prison.”
Machado has sharply criticized the MUD for agreeing to participate in elections after the company running the last election cycle under dictator Nicolás Maduro found proof of tampering in the use of their balloting technology.
As Reuters notes, Arteaga became a symbol of peaceful resistance after joining protests and playing the violin in May to protest the killing of a teen violinist in a protest. Given Arteaga’s refusal to participate in violence and his passion for his country, he rapidly became an international celebrity, which made him a threat to the regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro.
“Totalitarian regimes have a long history of brutally hijacking art in an attempt to advance their regime’s propaganda,” Marion Smith, Executive Director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), an organization that has advocated for the rights of Venezuelan protesters, explained to Breitbart News, “Wuilly has remained steadfast in the independence of his music, and the world widely recognizes his music as being representative of Venezuelans’ desire for freedom. Art touches a person’s soul, and Wuilly’s musical skill has at times brought even National Guardsmen to tears. This threatens the regime in a very unique and personal way, which is why they have been relentless in their inhumane treatment of Wuilly.”
The Venezuelan site Runrunes has kept a running tally of deaths during protests since April; at press time, they have documented 157 deaths as a result of state violence against unarmed protesters in Venezuela.