Venezuelan journalist Luis Carlos Díaz facing arbitrary detention

UPDATE: A judge ordered the conditional release of Luis Carlos Díaz, who is still charged with instigation to commit a crime, and cannot leave Venezuela, among other restrictions on his freedom.

March 12, 2019 (Caracas, Venezuela) — Luis Carlos Díaz, a journalist and activist well known throughout Venezuela and the global human rights community, was detained by SEBIN intelligence officers yesterday evening on his way home from work at Union Radio.

“The detention of Luis Carlos not only represents a violation of human rights but also a threat to everyone working to defend freedom of expression and democracy in Venezuela, in a moment where the country needs, more than ever, free flow information,“ said Verónica Arroyo, Latin America Policy Associate at Access Now.

Díaz has consistently reported on acts of censorship by the Maduro government, ranging from the blocking of hundreds of websites, radio stations, and television programs to internet shutdowns impacting platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp as well as circumvention tools including the Tor Browser and certain popular VPNs. He also reported on the phishing attack by state-owned ISP CANTV, in which it redirected traffic from a website allowing people to volunteer to assist with the distribution of humanitarian aid to a fake form.

Most recently Díaz has been covering Venezuela’s ongoing electricity blackout, now on its sixth day. The outages have brought access to information and communications services to an absolute minimum, during the same window of time in which opposition leader Juan Guaidó has called for national participation in large-scale demonstrations in the capital. The outages are also impacting basic human services, including access to potable water and public health services.

Last week, Maduro’s second in command Diosdado Cabello falsely accused Díaz of participating in a right-wing conspiracy to cause the current electrical outages across the country. Following the arrest last night, Maduro announced security forces had captured two individuals trying to sabotage the communication system of the Guayana de Guri hydroelectric dam, whose failure is the cause of the current blackout. “They are prisoners and they are talking,” he said.

Díaz is now reportedly being held for “cybercrimes,” and has faced cruel and degrading treatment during his detention. Following his initial arrest, security officers brought Díaz to his home in handcuffs, where they conducted a raid to confiscate electronic devices including cell phones, laptops, and hard drives.

After nearly 24 hours, the prosecutor’s office has not been informed about charges or what court will be responsible for overseeing his arraignment. However, SEBIN has confirmed to reporters that Díaz is being held at the notorious El Helicoide detention center for political prisoners.

The arrest warrant also reportedly listed Díaz’s wife and fellow journalist Naky Soto. She so far has not been subject to detention, perhaps due to her condition as a cancer patient, but Díaz assured her the authorities would come looking for her if she continued to denounce the government’s actions.

Access Now joins a global coalition of more than 60 organizations in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Luis Carlos Díaz and the cessation of all threats and harassment targeting both Díaz and Soto. We encourage others to join us by signing on to the statement here.