On March 15, 2019, Venezuelan authorities reportedly raided the home of Ronnie Villasmil, a professor of medicine at the University of Carabobo, in apparent retaliation for comments he made to United Nations officials about the state of hospitals in the country.
Since January 2019, protests have swept across Venezuela, denouncing the rule of president Nicolas Maduro. The protests spread amidst a humanitarian crisis that has deprived the majority of Venezuelans of access to adequate food and medical care. In February 2019, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) sent a five-person team to Venezuela to prepare a report documenting ongoing issues related to health, food, freedom of expression, social conflict, and violations of labor rights and human rights.
On March 14, 2019, OHCHR officials reportedly visited Enrique Tejera Hospital in the state of Valencia, where Villasmil is studying to earn a specialized certificate in surgery. Villasmil reportedly shared with OHCHR officials information about shortages of medicine and medical supplies in the region’s hospitals during their visit.
The next day, twenty police officers reportedly raided Villasmil’s home. Villasmil, however, was not home at the time. Police reportedly searched the house, confiscated some documents, and took photos of Villasmil’s passport. Officers also left a summons at Villasmil’s home, ordering him to report to the police.
On March 16, Villasmil announced via Twitter that he had decided to go into hiding. No further information about Villasmil’s whereabouts is available at this time. One report indicates that police continued to monitor Villasmil’s home days following the raid.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the use of a home raid in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Venezuela is party. While states have a responsibility right to maintain order and security, they have an obligation not to interfere with expressive activity so long as it is exercised peacefully and responsibly. The use of a police raid in retaliation for nonviolent free expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.