Press Release — Venezuela: HRF Condemns Imprisonment of Opposition Leader Over Picture-Taking Drone
Pugila was arrested after he brought a small commercial drone for aerial photography to a mass pro-democracy demonstration that took place in Caracas on September 1. This past Monday, a Venezuelan judge indicted Puglia for “favoring warfare” — an offense carrying a 10-year prison sentence — for allegedly violating a government-imposed ban on the use of drones to photograph public demonstrations.
“No one should be sent to jail for attempting to document a public demonstration. The Venezuelan government has long tried to suppress the fact that opposition protests dwarf pro-government rallies. The reason why international media, Venezuelan independent media, and members of civil society, are banned from capturing imagery of these gatherings, is that they reveal public discontent. A picture is worth a thousand words, and video of hundreds of thousands of protesters speaks volumes. Puglia is the government’s newest victim for daring to document the simple truth that the Venezuelan people want a referendum, and there are enough of them to satisfy the constitutional requirements,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF.
At Puglia’s arraignment hearing on September 5, the public prosecutor requested Puglia’s release acknowledging the absence of incriminating evidence linking him to the offense. However, Caracas judge Yesenia Maza Rojas dismissed the pleas of both the prosecution and the defense, and instead ordered Puglia’s indefinite detention pending trial.
“Even if Puglia had operated the drone himself, which he did not do, he should not be punished for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association,” said Garry Kasparov, chairman of HRF. “Puglia’s preposterous and illegal prosecution is Maduro’s latest attempt to intimidate the Venezuelan opposition and cover up the truth. The regime should release Puglia immediately,” said Kasparov.
Puglia is being held at the notorious headquarters of Venezuela’s political police, the Bolivarian Intelligence Service or SEBIN, a building known as El Helicoide. Members of the opposition — including students and citizens who tweeted or took part in demonstrations against the government — have been illegally held in El Helicoide and subjected to ill treatment, including torture.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.