Photo: Bee Breeders retrieved

Venezuela’s internet freedom further deteriorated during the past year due to declining internet connectivity, bolder online censorship, and reprisals against critical news reporters and social media users.”

The hegemony’s assault on the Internet gets a new emergency call from NGO Freedom House, which just released its annual “Freedom on the Net” report. The global overall picture of digital rights isn’t looking pretty and the specific chapter about Venezuela draws an accurate portrait of proactive measures for the digital crackdown that has been rapidly affecting the internet’s scope since 2013. 

Venezuela’s internet freedom further deteriorated during the past year due to declining internet connectivity, bolder online censorship, and reprisals against critical news reporters and social media users.

The Anti-Hate Law, passed by the Constituyente last year along with other pieces of legislation, gives almost complete discretionality to punish dissenting views and limit access to sites critical to the government: websites continue to be selectively blocked during specific events; independent digital media and social media accounts experienced frequent cyberattacks and users and reporters have been arbitrarily arrested for opinions and research shared online.

The Carnet de la Patria has a special mention, along with other methods that curb privacy: “During the past year, worrying developments included the mass distribution of the Carnet de la Patria (“Fatherland Card”), as well as a new ruling aimed at obtaining and retaining personal data of users of telecommunication services, particularly mobile telephony… The government has increasingly required citizens to hold new electronic identification cards, known as the “Carnet de la Patria”, to receive state benefits. During recent elections, ruling party tents (“Red Points”) were deployed near polling stations to scan and renew voters’ cards, a strategy which was decried as a means to track voter participation in real-time and pressure voters to cast their ballot in favor of the government”.

Another concern is the effects of the economic crisis which is also being felt online: “Frequent internet service failures and poor-quality connections also continued to hinder reliable access to the internet.” Theft of wires and constant damages to the infrastructure have caused connectivity troubles, exacerbated by electricity blackouts. The lack of access to currency isn’t helping either.

Even if the report only follows cases until May of this year, those have not stopped at all.

Theft of wires and constant damages to the infrastructure have caused connectivity troubles, exacerbated by electricity blackouts.

One of those recent cases involves two Merida State firefighters who were arrested and charged back in September for sharing a video on Twitter of a donkey pretending to be Nicolás Maduro.

Their situation kinda changed on October 31st, as a local court released Carlos Varon and Ricardo Prieto from prison, with some restrictions. But their trial will still be held. Simply, they won’t face charges under the Anti-Hate Law but under the Venezuelan Penal Code instead: Article 147 (disrespecting the President) and Article 285 (instigation to disobedience of laws or hatred among inhabitants).

The catch here is that those have lighter prison sentences if they’re convicted: six to thirty months in case of Article 147, and three to six years regarding Article 285. In comparison, they would have faced at least twenty years if the Anti-Hate Law was used as originally intended.

It’s pretty obvious that the backlash created by the press coverage of the story at home and abroad provoked a reaction inside the government to go softer on the firemen, but at the same time, their determination to lock them up and making an example of them is mostly unchanged.

And that also extends to the institution both men work for, as The Merida State Fire Corps, recently intervened by the Interior Ministry.

 

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