Officers of Venezuela’s national intelligence agency, Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN), detained Jatar, who manages the website Reporte Confidencial, a day after he reported on an anti-government protest, according to news reports and his wife, with whom CPJ spoke.
Jatar, who is a prominent opposition supporter, was detained as he went to a local radio station in Porlamar, the largest city on the Venezuelan Caribbean island of Isla Margarita, on September 3, 2016, his sister told Reuters.
According to news reports, authorities claimed he was in possession of US$25,000 in cash, which they claimed was to be used to fund a planned terror attack during the September 13, 2016, summit of the Non-Aligned Movement on the island.
The arrest came a day after Jatar published text and video account on his website and social media about residents of the Porlamar neighborhood of Villa Rossa welcoming Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro with jeers and by banging pots and pans. Maduro abruptly cancelled plans for a televised event inaugurating renovated apartment buildings in the neighborhood, according to news reports, and the incident made international news headlines. The video was posted on Reporte Confidencial, a news website he founded in 2007.
Pedro Arévalo, a lawyer for the Venezuelan legal rights group Foro Penal, claimed that authorities planted the money on Jatar, and that the journalist was detained in reprisal for publishing the video on his website. "All he did was to publish some videos," Arévalo told the Caracas daily El Nacional.
Silvia Martínez Jatar, the journalist’s wife, told CPJ that her husband was first taken to the SEBIN judicial police station on Isla Margarita. She said he was worried because he has chronic high blood pressure and he feared the government planned to jail him on false charges.
At his first court hearing on September 5, 2016, Jatar was told he faces charges of money laundering, his wife told CPJ. If convicted, Jatar could face up to 15 years in prison.
"There was no crime, and they did not present any evidence," Jatar’s defense attorney, Diomedes Potentini, told reporters.
On September 10, 2016, Jatar was transferred to the July 26 Prison in San Juan de los Morros, in Guarico State. Prison authorities prevented Jatar from calling family as part of a 30-day "adaptation" period, his wife told CPJ. During that period, he suffered from anxiety attacks and high blood pressure, and spent six days in the prison clinic. He first saw his lawyer, Diomedes Potentini, on September 20, 2016, 17 days after he was detained.
On September 26, 2016, Jatar was moved to a prison in Cumaná, a city near Margarita Island, where his period of "adaptation" started again, meaning he was prevented from contacting his family and was denied access to mobile phones and the internet. At the time, Jatar’s wife said she pled with prison authorities to let him have access to a cardiologist of his choosing to monitor his blood pressure and heart problems.
In December 2016, the journalist’s family and his lawyers announced that Jatar has skin cancer. His sister told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, which tracks press freedom, that authorities kept Jatar in solitary confinement and denied him access to sunlight. The journalist regularly withstood temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, she said.
In April 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which was investigating Jatar’s case, concluded that the detention was arbitrary and instructed the Venezuelan government to release him.
On May 24, 2017, authorities placed the journalist under house arrest because of health problems, according to news reports and a statement that that his family released on Twitter.
Under the terms of the house arrest, Jatar is under 24-hour surveillance by security forces, is barred from making public statements about his case, and can leave the house only for medical reasons and with a judge’s authorization, according to news reports. Since his release to house arrest, he has published five books and continues to post on social media platforms including Twitter, according to reports. He has been able to access some medical services but still suffers from painful skin conditions, according to reports.
As of late 2018, no trial date had been set.
Jatar is also a lawyer and a political activist. In the 1990s he worked as a legal adviser to the Venezuelan Congress. He faced charges of extortion in 1991 and fled to Miami, according to news reports. He was later exonerated, according to reports.
The journalist, who is a dual Venezuelan-Chilean citizen, has worked closely with the former opposition mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma.