Venezuela: The arrest of a 72-year-old woman for a joke about Maduro and other “hate crimes”

“The widowed arepa” and Maduro: a joke on social networks about the death of the president of Venezuela led to an accusation of “hate crimes” against a 72-year-old woman, a situation that, according to organizations that defend freedom of expression, is becoming common.

Olga Mata published a video on TikTok in which he “sold” arepas -a typical dish in this Caribbean country- with names linked to personalities such as the president’s wife Nicholas MaduroCilia Flores, or the fiscal general Tarek William Saab.

“I have the widow (as an unfilled arepa is popularly called), what is Cilia Flores“Says the woman in the video. “That’s not a widow yet,” they answer off camera. “Well… but that’s what we all want,” she concludes.

Last Thursday, Saab announced on Twitter an arrest warrant for “promotion of hate” against Mata and the arrest of his son Florencio Gil: “They instigated the assassination of public figures.”

The freedom of expression NGO Espacio Público rejects the application in this and other cases of the Law against Hate, dictated in 2017 by the ruling Constituent Assembly, which took over the powers of Parliament when it was controlled by the opposition. The legislation establishes punishments of up to 20 years in prison for incitement to hatred in a country with a maximum penalty of 30.

On Monday, Saab reported that the woman had been charged, receiving “precautionary measures” – release with an order to appear in court every 30 days – and released a video in which she apologized for inciting “assassination.”

“The lady who through her social network called to kill the president (…) publicly apologized,” said the prosecutor.

His son was released from charges, judicial sources reported.

“The norm is not to say if a joke is in good taste or in bad taste,” Carlos Correa, director of Espacio Público, told AFP.

The donkey they called Maduro

On March 31, 2021, the journalist Milagros Mata and the poet Juan Muñoz were arrested in the state of Anzoátegui (east) for “incitement to hatred” after posting “Deadly Wedding” on Facebook, a satirical text about a luxurious wedding party in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic, which Saab would have attended.

Both were released a day later with a regimen of presentation in court. “It’s a way of making us feel like prisoners, even though we’re not in a dungeon,” Mata said, after his release, to the portal La Gran Aldea.

Two firefighters, Ricardo Prieto and Carlos Varón, were detained for 48 days in 2018 for a viral video in which they walked through their station, in the state of Mérida (west), a donkey they called “president Maduro“.

Today they continue to appear in court.

“Dictatorships have no humor”

“The definition of crimes is vague and imprecise and the sanctions are disproportionate,” says Correa when questioning the Law against Hate, used in 17 criminal cases in 2021 according to Espacio Público.

“It leads you to inhibit yourself not only from making a joke, but from talking about matters of public interest such as a corruption complaint,” says Correa.

A report by this NGO, in fact, identifies public workers and health personnel as “main victims” for posts on WhatsApp, Twitter or other platforms. Venezuelawith a long humorous tradition, has seen political humor disappear on television and in the press.

State television broadcasts the animated propaganda shorts ‘Super Mustache’, a character that represents Maduro as a victorious superhero taking on the White House and opposition leaders.

Silence had already begun to prevail before the law against hatethey remind AFP Rayma Suprami and Eduardo “Edo” Sanabria, Venezuelan cartoonists who live in the United States.

A caricature with the signature of the late Hugo Chavez in a flat electrocardiogram, satire for the health crisis, led to Rayma’s dismissal from the newspaper El Universal, where she worked for 19 years.

“Dictatorships have no humor, they cannot get along with humor and what it represents, the reflection of what ordinary people think,” Rayma told AFP. “I was accused of inciting hatred, murder and terrorism,” she recalls about accusations against her for several caricatures of her.

“You can’t make fun of power,” says Edo. “If it provokes them to put someone in jail, they will do it.” (AFP)

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