Venezuela must present evidence or release US filmmaker

New York, April 26, 2013–Venezuelan authorities on Wednesday arrested a U.S. citizen working on a documentary film in the country and accused him of instigating unrest.

Timothy Hallet Tracy, an aspiring filmmaker who has been a producer and consultant for movies and television in California, has been in Venezuela since 2012 filming current events, according to press reports and CPJ sources. Local intelligence police detained Tracy at the international airport in Caracas, the capital, as he was about to leave Venezuela, the reports said.

“The Venezuelan government must present factual evidence to support its accusations or they should release Tracy immediately,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on Venezuelan authorities to allow all journalists to work without official interference.”

Tracy, 35, had been detained twice by the Venezuelan intelligence police, known as SEBIN, before he was arrested on Wednesday, according to press reports.

The Venezuelan minister of interior, justice, and peace, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, told a press conference that Tracy has been involved in a plot to destabilize the country on behalf of an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency since the contested April 14 presidential elections. Without providing any names or details, Rodríguez said Tracy had received funds from an unidentified foreign nonprofit organization and funneled that money to student organizations involved in anti-government protests.

As evidence of Tracy’s involvement in a destabilizing plot, Rodríguez presented a video. In some of the footage, reviewed by CPJ and supposedly shot by Tracy, young people are seen making jokes in a dark room. In another scene, Ret. Gen. Antonio Rivero, an opposition figure, speaks about demonstrations, in what Rodríguez characterized as instructions to supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

Rodríguez said a search of an apartment has resulted in the confiscation of dozens of videos and photographs which he said proved Tracy was involved in a plot.

Tracy’s arrest occurred as tensions are high in Venezuela. President Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chávez after narrowly defeating Capriles, accuses the political opposition of trying to orchestrate a coup with the support of the U.S., according to press reports. At least seven people have been killed and dozens injured in clashes between opposition protesters and police, according to news reports. Capriles says he was robbed of electoral victory and will challenge the vote in court.