Hate crimes are the trademark of authoritarian regimes

Hate crimes are the trademark of authoritarian regimes

Published on 17 May 2022

In Venezuela, various methods of censorship and propaganda are applied to contaminate information and make it increasingly difficult to exercise freedom of expression.

Making a joke, a denunciation, a demand or expressing a critical opinion that goes against the administration of Nicolás Maduro, and that also goes viral on social networks, can cost the freedom of any Venezuelan with the Law against Hate, for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance.

This was the case of Mrs. Olga Mata, a 72 year old tiktoker, who now has precautionary measures for the dramatization and publication of a video in the social network where she mentioned the main leaders of the government. It should be noted that it was an audio track that already had time on TikTok and Mata only made the characterization of the character of a woman selling arepas.

In the parody, the lady is seen wearing an apron and scarf and, when asked about the fillings she had available, she said: “I have the Tarek William Saab filled with egg; I have the Hugo Chávez, filled with mortadella; the Diosdado Cabello, with perico; the Iris Varela, made of bread flour and I have the widow that is the Cilia Flores”. In the background, someone mentioned to her: “But she is not a widow yet”, to which the lady answered: “Well, but that is what we all wish for”.

Last April 14, Tarek William Saab issued an arrest warrant against Olga Mata and her son Florencio Gil Mata. According to the prosecutor imposed by the 2017 constituent assembly, the two citizens “instigated the assassination of public personalities”.

Although Article 57 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela states that “everyone has the right to freely express their thoughts, ideas or opinions orally, in writing or through any other form of expression”, since 2017 censorship in social networks and social media is on the rise with the implementation of a parallel and unconstitutional law, called the Law against Hate.

The legislation claims to promote and guarantee tolerance, respect and collective peace and to criminalize any speech that incites hatred, violence or discrimination; but in reality it is an instrument that criminalizes the right to freedom of expression with penalties of up to 20 years in prison.

The risk of going viral

Social networks in Venezuela have become the main sources of information due to the censorship of traditional media and the persecution of independent media and journalism in general by Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

The report “Regulations against hate: censorship made law”, by the Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (Ipys), determined that the Anti-Hate Law has been used as a mechanism of persecution, censorship and self-censorship in the country.

In the opinion of political scientist and director of the Observatory of the Digital Environment and Twitter Trends, Probox, Marivi Marín Vázquez, censorship has been increasing through the so-called Law of Hate to counteract denunciations of human rights violations, abuses and crises and the Complex Humanitarian Emergency, which evidently, it is not convenient for the regime to bring to light, especially if it concerns international public opinion.

“We have seen how the prosecutor of the republic has acted according to the trends on Twitter or the topics that go viral on social networks, but clearly, he ignores other types of human rights violations and in general many violations of citizenship that are not taken into account because they simply do not go viral or he seeks to divert attention with other issues,” said the director of Probox.

The political scientist explained that in Venezuela different methods of censorship and propaganda are applied to contaminate information and make the exercise of freedom of expression increasingly difficult. Marín Vásquez warned that, in addition to the Law Against Hate, used to persecute people who have a political opinion contrary to that of the Maduro regime, there is currently a bill under discussion to further regulate social networks in Venezuela.

On March 23, Probox denounced that the pro-government National Assembly is developing a project to regulate social networks and digital content, which would imply greater control and restrictions to cyberspace and the violation of freedom of expression and the right to information.

Humor is not a crime

The director of Espacio Público, Carlos Correa, warns that since Maduro’s government approved the law against hate any type of expression in relation to political issues could be considered hate speech and become a “crime”.

The NGO director affirmed that “what is happening is an arbitrary exercise of power, a discretional exercise that makes a person like Mrs. Olga, for recreating a joke, to be persecuted by the law of hate and to be subjected to a judicial process”.

“No humorous expression should be a cause for deprivation of liberty, another thing is that through humor a third party can be defamed, then there are mechanisms, but not deprivation of liberty,” said Correa.

When asked if a joke like the one made by Mrs. Mata qualifies as a crime, the director of Probox emphasized that no, but that with this type of law it is clear that any type of expression or dissent will be punished and dealt with under the Anti-Hate Law, with the purpose of annulling and intimidating any type of political adversary.

Carlos Correa pointed out that there are rulers in other countries who have been bothered by the publication of a cartoon, but that criminal prosecution or detention for making jokes has only been documented in totalitarian or authoritarian regimes.

The director of Probox explained that in Cuba there is a very similar law called Law Decree 35, as well as in Nicaragua, where the Cybercrime Law has been in force for a little longer.

“As in Venezuela, basically what these laws seek to do is not only to intimidate freedom of expression through social networks, but also to prosecute people for opinions or messages that have been disseminated through their social networks,” he added.

Selective action

Attorney Thelma Fernandez stated that the Anti-Hate Law leaves open the possibility of interpreting the norm at convenience, since it does not clearly establish a specific conduct on the part of the active subject in order to consider him/her guilty of the commission of such crime.

“This law evidences a legislative ambiguity in matters of freedom of expression that is highly harmful to the democracy of any country, so it is clear that, in addition to being unlawful, it violates elementary human rights,” said Fernandez.

In the opinion of Carlos Correa, the Law against Hate does not conform to the standards of the Venezuelan Constitution itself. “Crimes have to be previously established and, in the case of that law which is imprecise and vague, and which is also coupled with a system that has no independence of judicial power, it generates a dynamic of arbitrary or discretionary application.

The director of Espacio Público explained that the standards related to freedom of expression indicate that no one should be deprived of their freedom for expressing themselves.

“In these cases, what international standards indicate is, first, the possibility of rectification or reply. Secondly, in the case of moral damage, the application of proportional and not disproportionate economic sanctions that do not imply the cancellation of the media or that generate an inhibiting effect,” he said.

“The application of a discretionary and arbitrary rule with very harsh sanctions violates due process, freedom of expression and the right to participate in public affairs,” Correa assured.

According to a count conducted by the NGO Espacio Público, from 2017 to 2020, there have been at least 45 cases in which it applied the Law against Hate to people for expressing themselves.

The NGO noted that the year with the highest number of cases was 2020 with 21, second is 2018 with 13 cases, third is 2019 with 10 and 2017 with one case.

Among the types of violations of freedom and the right to freedom of expression, judicial harassment is the main one, with a total of 42 cases. It is followed by detention (36), censorship (10), threats (5), verbal harassment (3), intimidation (2), aggression (1) and administrative restriction (2).

In the twitter community, Tarek William Saab is known as “the prosecutor of trends”, this is because on repeated occasions, he has only reacted to events that go viral and the noise they cause is hard to ignore.

The case of Mrs. Olga Mata has not been the only one that has caught the attention of the prosecutor imposed by the Constituent. In a timeline, Runrun.es compiled several other cases in which tweeting musicians, firefighters, writers, humorists, doctors and journalists have been punished under the Anti-Hate Law.

Read the original article of RunRunes in Spanish here.





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