In public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, “it is particularly important that both professional and citizen journalists be free to report what they see and hear, and to express their opinions openly,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Transparency ensures both reasoned decision-making and official accountability.”
But in Venezuela, as an increasing number of people fall ill with COVID-19, the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro is making sure that there is little to no coverage about disease transmission in the press.
In the months since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Venezuela, journalists, cameramen, broadcasters, photographers and the media have been victims of blockades, threats, harassment, and arbitrary arrests, according to human rights organizations.
According to Amnesty International, Darvinson Rojas, a Venezuelan journalist, became a prisoner of conscience for reporting on COVID-19. The Special Action Force of Venezuela’s National Police detained Rojas on March 21 after he reported on the spread of COVID-19 in Venezuela. After being held for 12 days, he was conditionally released on bail on April 2, charged with “advocacy of hatred” and “instigation to commit crimes.”
The Committee to Protect Journalist South and Central America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick warned about the dangers of silencing journalists like Rojas: “Violently detaining a journalist and interrogating him about his sources on a vital public health issue like the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Southwick, “has an undeniable chilling effect that will only discourage other journalists from reporting on the pandemic.”
Indeed, that appears to be the regime’s objective. Last month, Venezuelan photojournalist Rosali Hernandez was met by a member of the armed forces after she took pictures of COVID-19 patients in one of the main hospitals in Caracas, according to press reports. “In one of the hospitals,” Hernandez said, “the medical staff begged me to erase all of my photographs, saying they were not allowed to share any information with journalists and that they feared for their security.” Hernandez works for the online news outlet Caraota Digital.
The illegitimate Maduro regime is aggressively restricting the ability of independent journalists to serve the public.
“Officials seeking to evade responsibility have restricted journalists’ freedom of movement and used threats of criminal penalties to suppress reporting of information considered critical of the government,” said Secretary Pompeo. “We call for an immediate end to such censorship."