The Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights and Attention to Victims, Humberto Prado, urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Independent International Fact Finding Mission in Venezuela, the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group on Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, through the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Venezuela, the Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression and the Rapporteurship for Human Rights Defenders, to deploy their good offices aimed at documenting, investigating, and addressing the conflict developing on the Colombian-Venezuelan border.
In Apure State – bordering the Department of Arauca, Colombia – an armed conflict is ongoing between the Venezuelan military and irregular armed groups of the Dissident FARC. As a result of this conflict, more than 6,000 Venezuelans have fled the territory to Colombia, mostly to the town of Arauquita.
Activists Juan Carlos Salazar and Diógenes Tirado, from the Fundaredes organization, and journalists Luis Gonzalo Pérez and Rafael Hernández, correspondents for the Colombian media NTN24, were arbitrarily detained by members of the Bolivarian National Guard while carrying out reporting and journalism activities in this context. They were arrested at 4:30 pm last Wednesday and their whereabouts were not known until noon on Thursday, April 1st, to be released later at the end of the afternoon.
The members of the GNB detained them after probing the content they had on their telephones and audiovisual equipment and they were transferred to 92nd Brigade, at Sorocaima Fort in Guasdualito, in the Páez Municipality, Apure State. This detention was part of the repeated short-term forced disappearances carried out by the de facto government, where there was: (i) deprivation of liberty; (ii) the direct intervention of state agents or their acquiescence and; (iii) the refusal to acknowledge the detention and to reveal the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned. For 20 hours there was no information regarding the whereabouts of the four identified victims, and despite the fact that at this time it is known where they are, there was a flagrant violation of their legal guarantees.
Furthermore, Commissioner Humberto Prado sent a letter of additional information in relation to a previously requested precautionary measure, aimed at requesting protection measures for press workers in Venezuela. Thus, he informed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about the acts of arbitrary detention and forced disappearance of the victims: Luis Gonzalo Pérez, Rafael Hernández, Juan Carlos Salazar and Diógenes Tirado.
In fact, on a previous occasion Commissioner Humberto Prado had sent a request for a precautionary protection measure to benefit journalist Luis Gonzalo Pérez, considering the repeated attacks that he has been subjected to and that today has materialized. Likewise, it was requested that the precautionary measure be extended to Rafael Hernández, brother of the journalist Rosalí Hernández, who was also included in the request for a precautionary measure.
The arbitrary detention and forced disappearance of activists Juan Carlos Salazar and Diógenes Tirado and journalists Luis Gonzalo Pérez and Rafael Hernández are part of a context of persecution, criminalization and harassment of human rights defenders, activists and the media in Venezuela, which has been worsened with the enactment of the State of Alarm for COVID-19, especially when journalists cover events related to human rights violations.
Likewise, Commissioner Humberto Prado requested that a public statement be issued and addressed to human rights groups and civil society throughout the region so that they take into account the seriousness of the events denounced, demand the return of electronic equipment, cameras and personal belongings that the activists and journalists possessed, and demand the initiation of an immediate, expeditious and impartial investigation that identifies the officials involved in the arbitrary detention and forced disappearance of Juan Carlos Salazar, Diógenes Tirado, Luis Gonzalo Pérez, and Rafael Hernández, and that all those responsible for these human rights violations are delivered to justice.