Saturday, December 26, 2020

"Venezuela wields a powerful 'hate' law to silence Maduro’s remaining foes"

The question, as always, is who gets to define hate.

I've always thought the most equitable solution is to use a variation on two greedy boys splitting a pie: one cuts, the other chooses. With hate laws, the party proposing the legislation gets consent and the party opposed gets to define.

Oddly enough when I bring this type of solution up in hierarchical, bureaucratic or political organizations I get the uncomprehending cow eyes and the discussion moves on.

From Reuters, December 14:

Venezuela's "law against hate" is suddenly a key tool for Nicolás Maduro to repress dissent, particularly online. A Reuters review of over 40 recent arrests found in each case that authorities used the law to detain critics of the president, his aides or allies.

SAN JOSÉ DE GUANIPA, Venezuela–Francisco Belisario, a Venezuelan mayor, retired general and member of the ruling Socialist party, had enough. His loudest local critic had accused him of bungling the response to the coronavirus outbreak and other big problems.

In August, he wrote a state prosecutor and requested an “exhaustive investigation” of his nemesis, Giovanni Urbaneja, a former lawmaker who had become a gadfly to the mayor and other Socialist officeholders. Urbaneja, Belisario wrote in a letter reviewed by Reuters, was conducting a “ferocious smear campaign” on Facebook and elsewhere.

Urbaneja not only defamed him and President Nicolás Maduro, the mayor wrote. He violated Venezuela’s Law Against Hate. The law, passed in 2017 but rarely used before this year, criminalizes actions that “incite hatred” against a person or group. Charge Urbaneja with hate crimes, the mayor implored the prosecutor.

Days later, several dozen masked officers raided Urbaneja’s home and took him at gunpoint for “a chat,” according to the police report of his arrest and Urbaneja’s wife. Urbaneja remains jailed, awaiting formal charges and a trial.

The mayor, in a text message to Reuters, confirmed writing the letter seeking hate-law charges against Urbaneja. He defended the move, saying his foe’s critique was unfair because the local coronavirus response is managed by the national health system, not the mayor’s office.

It was an increasingly common maneuver: In a review of more than 40 recent hate-law arrests, Reuters found that in each case, authorities intervened against Venezuelans who had criticized Maduro, other ruling party officials or their allies.

Despite its growing use by prosecutors, the hate law is considered unconstitutional and illegitimate by many Venezuelan legal scholars consulted by Reuters. Not only does the law violate the right to free expression, they argue, it was also illegally enacted – drafted and rubber-stamped by a parallel legislature that Maduro created at the time to circumvent the opposition-controlled assembly. 

The law played an important role in a nationwide election this month, Maduro’s opponents say, by cowing critics who had spoken out about the government in the runup to the vote. The election, widely considered a sham by the opposition, human rights groups and most Western democracies, finally gave control of the assembly, the last part of the national government not aligned with Maduro, to his allies.

Maduro is wielding the force of the state in a widening range of ways to tighten his grip on power in the impoverished South American country, now in its eighth year of economic crisis. To suppress dissent in poor neighborhoods, his government deploys special police, some of whom are convicted criminals, to conduct lethal raids and intimidate citizens. To appease enfeebled security forces, police and troops are often allowed to loot, extort and commit violent crimes. Maduro himself has been indicted by the United States for narcoterrorism and other alleged crimes.

Now, with little effective opposition to challenge the hate legislation, and most of the courts controlled by judges also loyal to Maduro, the law could be an even more formidable tool against dissent. “A law like this, in the hands of a judicial power without independence, lends itself to all sorts of persecution,” said Alberto Arteaga, a criminal law specialist at the Central University of Venezuela. “The criminal justice system is being used as a weapon.”

Tarek Saab, the government’s chief prosecutor, is one of the architects of the hate law. In a brief telephone interview, he rejected claims that the act is being used for partisan purposes. He told Reuters that the legislation is an important instrument for defusing unrest.....