Miami, October 19, 2021 – Venezuelan authorities must drop the criminal investigation into journalist Roberto Deniz, stop harassing him and his family, and allow him to continue his journalism work free of intimidation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 14, a criminal court in the capital of Caracas issued an arrest warrant for Deniz, editor at digital investigative reporting outlet Armando.Info who is in exile in Colombia, according to his lawyer Ana Bejarano who spoke with CPJ via messaging app and shared a copy of the warrant with CPJ. The warrant says that Deniz is under criminal investigation under the Anti-Hate Law for “inciting hate,” a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison. The warrant did not provide detail on the journalist’s alleged criminal conduct.
On October 15, agents from Venezuela’s criminal and forensic investigative police bureau (CICPC) raided the home of Deniz’s parents in Caracas, according to news reports and Joseph Poliszuk, an Armando.Info editor who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
According to those same sources, the journalist’s brother, sister-in-law, and nieces were at the home at the time of the raid, which lasted for hours during which agents searched the home without taking anything. Afterward, authorities took Deniz’s brother into custody at CICPC headquarters, interrogated him, and released him without charge, according to news reports.
“There can be no doubt that the raid on exiled journalist Roberto Deniz’s home, the order to arrest him, and other instances of harassment, are in direct retaliation for his investigative reporting on corruption at the highest levels of the Venezuelan government,” said CPJ Latin America and the Caribbean Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick. “Venezuelan authorities must cease their harassment of Deniz and his family, and allow him and his colleagues at Armando.Info to continue their sensitive and significant work, free of harassment.”
On the same day as the raid, Deniz posted a tweet claiming that the arrest warrant was in response to his ongoing coverage of “the businesses and relationship between Alex Saab and Nicolás Maduro.”
Saab, whom news reports describe as a financial fixer for Maduro, the Venezuelan president, sued Deniz for criminal defamation on the basis of his and other Armando.Info journalists’ reporting in 2017 that implicated Saab in alleged corruption in Venezuela’s state-run food distribution program, as CPJ documented. Following the suit, Deniz and three Armando.Info editors – Poliszuk, Ewald Scharfenberg, and Alfredo Meza — fled the country in 2018.
Also on October 14, Bejarano said, the same court requested the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) to issue an international “red notice” for Deniz, which asks law enforcement around the world to “locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action,” according to INTERPOL. Bejarano shared a copy of the court request with CPJ.
CPJ contacted INTERPOL via a form on its website to determine if the organization had chosen to issue the notice for Deniz, who was not listed on the organization’s database of fugitives as of today.
On October 16, Saab was extradited from Cape Verde — where he had been in detention since June 2020 following an INTERPOL red notice — to the U.S. to face money laundering charges, according to news reports and the U.S. Department of Justice. Lawyers for Saab say that the charges against him are “politically motivated,” according to news reports.
Venezuela’s anti-hate law was approved by the National Constituent Assembly in November 2017; as CPJ documented at the time, the law does not define basic terms like hate, leaving it open to broad interpretation. The law has been used to retaliate against journalists, as CPJ has documented.
CPJ emailed the CICPC for comment but did not get a response. CPJ’s calls to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, which heads the judiciary in Venezuela, were not answered.