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Venezuelan Journalist Charged After Anti-Maduro Protest

President begins crackdown after accusing journalists of promoting a protest that he claims was part of a "coup"
By The News · 05 of September 2016 12:15:25
Protesters run after clashes with the police during a rally to demand a referendum to remove Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, No available, photo: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS, Venezuela – A prominent journalist and lawyer on the Venezuelan island of Margarita was charged Monday with money laundering and will remain behind bars, according to family and a rights group, following his detention after publicizing a protest against President Nicolás Maduro.

Videos published by activists, purportedly from the locality of Villa Rosa, showed scores of people banging pots and pans and jeering the socialist leader on Friday evening.

More than 30 people were briefly detained, activists said on Saturday, in part of what the opposition is calling a major crackdown by the socialist government during a campaign for a referendum to recall Maduro.

He says a coup is being planned against him.

All those held in Margarita were released after a few hours except Braulio Jatar, 58, who was picked up on Saturday morning on his way to host his regular morning radio show, according to his family.

They knew nothing about his whereabouts until midnight that day when intelligence agents came to the family home and searched it, allowing them to send him clothes, according to his sister, Boston-based Ana Julia Jatar, 60.

She said she had received a voice message through WhatsApp from her brother the previous night saying, “This is going to get ugly,” adding that arrests had already begun.

The public display of anger against Maduro on Friday night was rare as the president normally only speaks at set-piece events where hundreds of red-clad supporters cheer his every word.

On Thursday, hundreds of thousands of people marched peacefully through Caracas to demand that a plebiscite on Maduro, the successor to Hugo Chávez and whose popularity has plummeted due to an economic crisis, be held this year.

Of 163 people detained in relation to the Sept. 1 protests, 29 remain behind bars, according to local rights group Penal Forum. Five of them have been formally charged.

This brings the total of political prisoners in Venezuela to 93, said Alfredo Romero, the director of Penal Forum.

Both Romero and Jatar’s sister confirmed the charge of money laundering and that he would remain behind bars.

Government officials have sought to downplay the incident in Margarita, saying videos have been “manipulated” by pro-opposition media, and showing clips of their own where Maduro was cheered by supporters.

The Ministry of Information did not immediately reply to requests for comment on Jatar’s case or other arrests.