The creeping criminalization of protest

Quico says: It’s a worrying and under-reported trend: protesting in public is increasingly liable to land you in jail in Venezuela. PROVEA, a homegrown human rights NGO, documented nine violently suppressed protests in February alone.

We’re not talking about political rallies here; it’s protests over bread-and-butter issues by regular people that are increasingly dealt with with a volley of tear gas and a sprinkling of rubber pellets and arrests.

Some examples:

  • On February 2nd, a protest by recently dislocated street hawkers in Charallave was suppressed with tear gas and rubber pellets: one was injured, eight were arrested.
  • On the 14th, five amateur athletes were injured when police broke up a sit-in at Valencia’s Villa Olímpica in protest at the lack of funding for coaches and sports equipment. Several of these guys are being prosecuted because the facility sits within a “military zone.”
  • On February 16th, two incidents: temporary PDVSA workers protesting over unpaid back wages in Píritu, Anzoátegui were tear gassed off the streets. In Guayana, nine miners were arrested for asking that the government come through on aid promises.
  • On the 28th, it was members of some 30 Community Councils in Cumaná. They were roughed up for demanding a doctor for their neighborhood Barrio Adentro outpatient clinic.

These kind of stories are hitting the press almost daily. PROVEA head Mariño Alvarado tells Tal Cual that “it’s becoming standard procedure that if you get picked up while protesting, you can be prosecuted.” He said the recently ammended penal code’s article 357, which makes blocking a street a crime punishable by four to eight years in prison, has been used more and more often to crack down on these kinds of protests.

As Alvarado notes, prosecuting people for this kind of thing is unconstitutional – not that that’s slowing the government down. After all, who’s gonna call them on it? The all-chavista Supreme Tribunal? The redder-than-red human rights ombudsman? Right…

That’s the thing about autocracy: when one part of the state abuses its power, no other part of the state has the autonomy to check it. As a common citizen, you have no recourse. You’re just screwed.