It’s no secret that Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro can’t handle criticism, let alone be the butt of a joke. Last week, two firefighters were accused of instigating hate after they posted a video of a donkey patrolling their fire station and referring to the donkey as “President Maduro.”
The two firefighters, Ricardo Prieto and Carlos Varón, have been arrested and could face up to 20 years in prison under the 2017 “law against hate” passed by the country’s Constituent Assembly. The law also threatens to revoke licenses, block webpages, or sanction any outlet that transmits messages that the government considers to be promoting hate or intolerance. Television and radio stations are also required to broadcast at least 30 minutes of programming a week that “promotes peace and tolerance.”
As Andrés Cañizález writes for Global Americans, the ways the media and citizens are searching for and sharing information are changing at an accelerated process triggered by direct or self-censorship. Between 2013 and July 2018, 50 print media organizations in Venezuela closed their paper-based editions, focusing more on online-only platforms. And a 2017 review by the NGO Espacio Público, found 708 cases in which the government violated the right to free speech. Most of those cases involved the use of physical violence, intimidation and attacks by the government on workers of the media.