The Anti-Escrache Law and the Death of Free Speech

At times, Venezuela can feel like an exercise in competitive Orwellianism. A couple of weeks ago, Nicolas Maduro went to his tailor-made Constituyente to denounce the “campaigns of hate, violence and intolerance” regime higher-ups have been subjected to, after a series of incidents (known colloquially as escraches), where angry Venezuelans both at home and abroad confronted regime officials for their legendary corruption and mismanagement.

Elsewhere in the world, this is known as “your constituents giving you a piece of their mind” — and officials’ willingness to sit through them is considered a crucial part of keeping democracy working. In Venezuela, the regime describes it as a terrible vice to be stamped out using all the repressive power of the state.

Indeed, the Constituent Assembly is fast-tracking a bill that could send people who ball out their leaders with up to 25 years in prison. Yes, twenty-five. They’re styling it as the “Law on Peaceful Coexistence and Against Intolerance” (Ley de Convivencia Pacífica y contra la Intolerancia.) Like we said, Orwell is a rank amateur next to these guys.

The legislation is really aimed at curbing all forms of criticism against the government, as Carlos Correa, head of NGO Espacio Publico explains, with harsh penalties imposed for people for expressions that would be considered protected speech in any vaguely democratic country.

The Constituent Assembly is fast-tracking a bill that could send people who ball out their leaders with up to 25 years in prison. Yes, twenty-five.

For some time, the hegemony has toyed with the idea of placing new curbs on social media. This is a perfect excuse.

The text of the Anti-Escrache hasn’t been made public, but we’ve been around the block often enough to know what to expect. Going from official descriptions, and considering the current Media Law (which originally regulated all content shown on radio and television, and was later widened to cover the Internet), we can expect yet another vaguely worded text that regime-controlled courts can use indiscriminately to cow opponents into silence.

If it was just about media, there’d be little point in writing a new law. But by the looks of it, this bill is aimed not just at the media, but at regular citizens as well.

It was announced right after the two largest free-to-air TV channels were put under formal investigation for their “lack of coverage” of the July 30th constituyente election, which bucked Maduro’s personal orders to them. Indeed, local media owners could face their own inquisition at the hands of the Constituyente too.

Funny that even when the government wants to offer their side of the story, such as at the Tuesday press conference with international media, the hegemony shows its unhinged repressive spirit by coercing outlets into doing their coverage the way Maduro wants, on penalty of being kicked out of Miraflores.

Like democracy, free speech has been on life support in this country for a long time. If this bill becomes law, free speech will die.

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