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Venezuela: Twitter Users Detained After Socialist Party Deputy is Slain

Categories: Venezuela, Censorship, Legal Threats, Threatened Voices, War & Conflict
An officer of the Venezuela's Bolivarian National Police watches protesters in Maracaibo, 2014. Photo by Maria Alejandra Mora (CC BY-SA 3.0)

An officer of the Venezuela's Bolivarian National Police watches protesters in Maracaibo, 2014. Photo by Maria Alejandra Mora (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Over the last three weeks, several Twitter users have been detained by Venezuelan authorities for making online comments that police allege tie them to the murder of 27-year-old Socialist Party deputy Robert Serra [1], who was stabbed to death [2] in his home on Oct. 1, 2014.

Serra's assassination shook the country's increasingly embattled political leadership and further stoked the already-high tensions between authorities and opposition party members. Although two men, both reportedly Serra's bodyguards, have been detained as suspects  [3]in his killing [3], numerous other citizens have been detained in connection with the incident.

At least two individuals were detained in connection with the @Hiipolita Twitter [4] account, where an alleged fortune teller foresaw “mourning” in the National Assembly.

The National Assembly will be in MOURNING!

Although the account has been silent since Oct. 14, its more recent tweets included concerns about economic and social conditions in the country, numerous retweets of opposition political leaders such as Leopoldo López [6] and Henrique Capriles [7], and general predictions of hard times ahead.

Several other individuals have been detained for tweets that authorities claim link them to Serra's death:

Global Voices Advocacy obtained information about these detentions through local sources in Venezuela. Unfortunately, there is little more information about these individuals that can be confirmed at this time. Given the risk of speculating or publishing unconfirmed information about the fate of the detainees, we have chosen simply to report what we know.

The government has also blocked the news portal Infobae, which published material regarding Serra’s homicide, including pictures of his body. CONATEL president William Castillo wrote:

Following instructions, due to serious violations of the Venezuelan laws, Conatel ordered blocking the website http://t.co/RDqpeaR3Se [8]

Since the adoption of the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media [10], CONATEL (an administrative body, dependent on the President) has had the power to block web content without trial. Though the Venezuelan government has been prone to detaining social media users [11] in the past, it seems that their policies have tightened over the last year, with the wave of blockades in relation to the black market dollar, and filtering measures taken this year at the height of the student protests [12].