On January 9, 2019, Venezuelan security agents detained Danish freelance reporter Kristoffer Toft when he tried to enter the country on a tourist visa at Maiquetía airport in La Guaira, in northern Venezuela, the reporter told the Committee to Protect Journalists. Officials interrogated Toft and conducted a Google search of his name before denying him entry to the country and placing him on a return flight to Miami, according to the journalist and posts by Venezuelan press freedom organizations on social media.
Toft, a reporter and researcher who had previously visited Venezuela several times, told CPJ that he traveled there in order to write and pitch articles to Danish media outlet TV2, and had agreed to do a live interview with the station as a commentator on January 10, the day of President Nicolás Maduro’s inauguration for his second presidential term.
When he told an immigration agent at Maiquetía airport that he was entering Venezuela to visit friends and do reporting, the agent asked him to wait while his case was reviewed, Toft told CPJ. He said that after 45 minutes, officials in plainclothes who identified themselves as agents of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, the country’s military intelligence agency, approached him and said they needed to conduct a further review of his case.
Toft told CPJ he could see the agents searching his name on Google on their phones.
In November 2017, Toft published an article on the Venezuelan news site Caracas Chronicles that criticized the government’s attacks on free speech and academic freedom, claiming that “knowledge, and free access to it, are deeply threatened in Venezuela today.” The piece appeared at the top of the search results for Toft’s name, after his Twitter profile, which reads “right now mostly concerned about Venezuelan dictatorship.”
According to Toft, agents informed him he would be sent back to Miami on the same plane that had brought him to Venezuela, because he lacked the necessary authorization to enter the country. When Toft asked the agents how he could obtain the proper authorization, he received ambiguous responses and was told to reach out to the Public Ministry, an office under the Venezuelan attorney general that does not handle immigration documentation. Toft was quickly forced to board the plane and sent to Miami.
As reported by CPJ, in recent years the Venezuelan government has harassed and denied entry to several international journalists. In 2016, officials cited inadequate documentation when denying entry to CPJ Andes correspondent John Otis and five other journalists who were traveling to Venezuela to cover protests there. German freelance journalist Billy Six is currently detained at the Helicoide military prison and faces charges of espionage and rebellion.