Thursday, April 2, 2020
An outbreak of COVID-19 could have a devastating impact on Venezuela, where many hospitals lack even the most basic resources. The country’s government is cracking down on journalists who are reporting on the virus. Our partner Redes Ayuda offers emergency and legal assistance to these journalists, and is taking action to help reporters protect themselves from infection.

Venezuela has been in lockdown since 17 March. The Latin-American country has reported five deaths from COVID-19, and currently has 146 confirmed cases. A large-scale outbreak would almost certainly overwhelm the country’s health care system, which was described by the Washington Post as being in “a state of collapse” already. Many hospitals lack regular access to electrity, or water.

Free Press Unlimited is financially supporting Redes Ayuda’s assistance of three journalists, who received threats or were detained following their coverage of the outbreak.

“In Venezuela, the government controls all traditional media outlets. So, the only ‘truth’ that is out there is made by the government and they’re hiding information,” said Redes Ayuda founder Melanio Escobar. “People need to be aware of what’s really happening to keep safe and know the real risk of going outside during this outbreak.”

Melanio Escobar says the pandemic is being used as a pretext to increase social control in the country.[Rafael Hernández/Sincepto]

Threatened or detained

Reporters covering the country’s Covid-19 outbreak have been met with repression. In recent weeks, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported multiple instances where journalists were threatened or arrested because of their reporting on the virus. In one case, a governor reportedly demanded that a local police chief detain a journalist and “teach him a lesson” after he questioned whether a hospital would be able to cope with COVID-19 patients on his Facebook page.

Escobar: “The government doesn’t want people to know the real situation. They are saying they have a great, robust health system, which is not true. At the same time, they are using this pandemic to reinforce social control. This includes cracking down on the media.”

Journalists in the country are also at risk of contracting the disease themselves. Media organisations and independent reporters lack the resources to obtain protective gear. With support from Free Press Unlimited, Redes Ayuda will distribute a three-month supply of surgical gloves, protective masks, antibacterial gel and more to 30 journalists from all over the country.

Photos: Rafael Hernández/Sincepto