On August 29, 2018, Venezuela's intelligence service, the Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN), detained freelance photographer Jesús Medina Ezaine at a subway station in Caracas, according to news reports.
In a video posted to Twitter by Venezuela's National Union of Press Workers (SNTP), Peruvian journalist Juana Avellaneda, who was with Medina at the time of his arrest, said that he had been helping her and a Peruvian colleague with a reporting project in Caracas.
Avellaneda said the three journalists were waiting at the subway when a group of armed men approached them, appeared to recognize Medina, and asked if he knew the Peruvians, before taking him into custody. Avellaneda said the journalist told the agents he did not know the Peruvians, and that she believes if he had admitted knowing them, they would have been arrested as well.
At a hearing on August 31, 2018, a Caracas court charged Medina with money laundering, criminal association, illegal enrichment against acts of public administration, and inciting hate, according to news reports. The court sent him to the Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas, pending trial, according to a tweet from María Fernanda Torres, a lawyer with the Venezuelan legal rights organization Foro Penal, who is part of Medina's defense team.
Under Venezuela's vague anti-hate law, passed in November 2017, the crime of "inciting hate" in the press or through social media is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. CPJ could not determine to which posts the charge relates.
On September 10, 2018, Douglas Rico, the head of Venezuela’s criminal and forensic investigative police bureau (CICPC), told reporters Medina’s arrest was related to an incident the previous year in which the journalist said he was kidnapped. Rico said that the agency believed Medina faked his kidnapping, and that that authorities issued an arrest warrant for “simulation of a punishable act.”
Rico was referring to an incident in which the journalist went missing for two days. Medina had reported receiving threats over his work before being abducted on November 4, 2017, according to reports. Later that month, Venezuela’s National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello said on his television show, “Con el Mazo Dando,” that he believed the kidnapping may have been staged, according to reports. On November 23, 2017, Medina posted a video on Twitter that accused authorities of ordering his kidnapping.
CPJ could not determine when the arrest warrant was issued or why the court’s charges did not include a reference to the false kidnapping allegation.
When CPJ called the CICPC about his case in November 2018, the person who answered said they did not have information about the case and that CPJ would need to visit its office in Caracas to get more specific details about the case.
On October 15, 2018 after the 45 days had elapsed, the public prosecutor’s office ruled that Medina would remain in detention, Torres wrote on Twitter.
None of the numbers listed for SEBIN were connected at the time of publication, and CPJ was unable to find another way to contact the agency.
Authorities have previously harassed Medina over his work. In October 2017, authorities detained Medina while he was reporting at a prison in northern Venezuela with two international journalists, according to reports.
Medina's photographs and videos have appeared on the website Dólar Today, which is based in the U.S. and publishes articles critical of Venezuela's socialist government. The site also provides information on the country's black-market exchange rate.
As of late 2018, Medina was being held in pre-trial detention in the Ramo Verde military prison, without any scheduled trial date, according to Foro Penal.