A prominent Venezuelan journalist with Boston ties has been arrested amid the antigovernment protests roiling the South American nation, his family and friends said Sunday.
Braulio Jatar, director of the Venezuelan news website Reporte Confidencial, was detained early Saturday by Venezuelan police, who later raided his home in eastern Venezuela.
Jatar’s sister Ana Julia Jatar, who lives in Boston, said Braulio Jatar had been critical of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and had recently incurred the government’s ire for posting videos of an antigovernment protest.
An official with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition also confirmed Jatar’s arrest.
Jatar’s sister runs El Planeta, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in Massachusetts, and a nonprofit dedicated to women’s rights in Venezuela. In an interview Sunday, she said the arrest is a thinly veiled attempt at free speech suppression and political intimidation. Nearly two dozen protesters, activists, and journalists have been detained by the government, rights groups say.
“I’m very scared. I’ve seen the atrocities that this government can do to people in prison,” Ana Julia Jatar said. Braulio “was doing his job as a reporter. I’m very, very convinced that they probably had wanted to do harm to my brother for a long time.”
Rodrigo Diamanti, a Venezuelan activist and student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said he was also worried about Jatar’s safety. Diamanti said he himself was once “kidnapped and detained” by government officials. He later left the country out of fear for his life.
“People are really suffering right now, and those who work for a change are put in prison,” he said. “We feel helpless because that’s the feeling the government can do to you. If you protest, if you try to raise awareness, the government controls the judicial system, and they can do whatever they want.”
Braulio Jatar’s arrest comes at a raucous time in Venezuelan politics, which has left Maduro reeling. His opponents say the government is dragging its feet on a recall election, which many protesters support.
Earlier this year, US Secretary of State John Kerry chided Maduro on human rights violations and called on the country’s political leaders to permit a recall referendum.
In a statement, the rights group Foro Penal Venezolano said 20 people were arrested Friday after a protest in the town of Villa Rosa on Margarita Island, where residents used pots and pans to drown out a presidential speech.
On Thursday, in the capital city of Caracas, thousands of protesters flooded the streets, blocking roads to voice displeasure with Maduro’s leadership.
Throughout the year, the nation has been paralyzed by rampant food and electricity shortages. Braulio Jatar’s website, friends and family said, has chronicled these developments and protests, which might have contributed to his arrest.
“I’m telling his story to everyone who wants to listen because this government only respects when people speak internationally,” Ana Julia Jatar said.
Her husband, Ricardo Hausmann, is an economics professor at Harvard and the former chairman of the IMF-World Bank Development Committee. Hausmann is also the former Venezuelan minister of planning.
Joanna Hausmann, the couple’s daughter, spoke out about her uncle’s arrest on Twitter. Hausmann is a popular comedian and YouTube personality based in New York City. She has been featured on Univision, BuzzFeed, and the BBC.
“Proof of the [regime’s] dogmatic silencing of the media,” Hausmann wrote. “My uncle will now be added to the long list of Venezuela’s political prisoners. Being a journalist has cost him his freedom.”