Anti Hate Law Punishes Feelings with Jail

Érika Palacios, a 41-year-old woman, mother of three minors and independent social activist, was the first victim of the Anti Hate Law.

Photo: El Diario de Hoy

Érika Palacios was arrested on January 3, in Naguanagua, Carabobo. The following day, she was indicted of possession of incendiary substances and explosive artifacts, Article 296 of the Criminal Code, instigation to commit a crime, Article 295, blocking a public road, Article 357, and instigating hate, Article 20 of the Anti Hate Law, the same one deemed unconstitutional by lawyer Luis Armando Betancourt, from Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal.

The law (25 articles only) favors “peaceful cohabitation and tolerance” in a rather vague way, opening the door for persecution against political dissidents. What’s worse, it forces citizens and media into inhibition and self-censorship.

It’s the law of fear, imposing media shutdowns and fines for companies, the law that sought to send Érika, a 41-year-old social activist with three children, to prison for 20 years.

With the stroke of a pen

“It’s time to punish hate crimes,” Nicolás Maduro said on August 10, 2017. “Intolerance in all its forms must be eradicated for good.”

It’s the law of fear, imposing media shutdowns and fines for companies.

According to NGO Espacio Público, between January and April 2018, the Ley Contra el Odio, por la Convivencia Pacífica y la Tolerancia was used at least eight times against public employees, protesters, members of the Catholic Church and journalists, urging the latter to “soften” their editorial line, especially when reporting on issues that reveal the social crisis regarding health and food.

It was also mercilessly applied to Érika Palacios. According to Betancourt, part of the team of lawyers who took her case, her indictment was based on police officers’ statements; more than 40 officers raided her house and harassed her husband after she reported (on her own social networks) that she was tortured during interrogation, merely for dissenting.

“The Anti Hate Law” says Betancourt, “has inaccurate concepts that clear the way for any sort of abuse. Here, the legislation even punishes feelings.”

Merciless strike

Considering Venezuelans’ outspoken dissatisfaction with the government, there were fears that this law would be applied to quell protests. The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS) recorded 927 protests in April 2018 alone (about 31 daily), a 25% increase compared to the same period of last year.

Will you go to prison for 20 years if you show dissatisfaction for the shortage of water and blame it on Maduro?

The law was also applied to two Church members because of their preachings.

Érika’s case says you will. On the same day of her detention, 28-year-old Ronald Sevilla, who also expressed displeasure with the regime, was indicted with the same crimes.

The law was also applied to two Church members because of their preachings: Mgr. Tulio Luis Ramírez Padilla, auxiliary bishop of Caracas, and presbyter Miguel Acevedo, priest of Our Lady of La Candelaria. They were summoned to appear before the Interior Ministry, the priest accused of inciting hate during a mass conducted on February 2.

On March 8, Jhohann Adolfo Lobo Goyo and Michael Efrén Labrador Ramírez, student leaders from Los Andes University (ULA), were also indicted for aggravated incitation of hate, resisting the authorities and illegal possession of a firearm, because they complained on TV about the shortage of public transport and called people to protest the country’s humanitarian crisis.

The most recent case was the opening of an administrative case against digital news outlet El Nacional Web.

The most recent case was the opening of an administrative case against digital news outlet El Nacional Web, on May 22: the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) imposed a precautionary measure to punish the dissemination of messages that “disregard legitimate authorities and also inciting and/or promoting hate.”

The organization argues the breach of the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Digital Media, as well as the Anti Hate Law, which is, in fact, no law at all, since it was sanctioned by a body that usurped the National Assembly’s legitimacy, seeking to criminalize political dissidence and punish freedom of thought.

But who’s keeping track anyway? In Revolution, Big Brother is always watching and don’t you dare speak your mind.

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.