In the early hours of the morning on March 12, Venezuelan journalist Luis Carlos Díaz was confirmed to have been detained by the Bolivarian Intelligence Police (SEBIN).
His wife, Naky Soto, also a well known political commentator, had reported him missing hours before.
The hashtag #DondeEstaLuisCarlos (Where's Luis Carlos?) gave way to #LiberenaLuisCarlos (Free Luis Carlos) which very soon became the first trending topic on Venezuela's twittersphere and among the top tweets worldwide.
Luis Carlos is a long-time and celebrated member of the Global Voices community. For more than a decade, he has worked to defend freedom of speech and use of digital networks to maintain public access to information amid Venezuela's ongoing crisis. He and Soto also host a hugely popular video program (previously on YouTube, now on Patreon) where they offer political commentary and humor.
Luis Carlos is known for his wit, his skills as a collaborator and mentor, and his unique capacity to understand and explain Venezuela's complicated digital communication environment.
According to SNTP member Marco Ruiz, who attended a gathering in front of the public prosecutor's offices on the morning of March 12, agents from SEBIN searched Diaz's and Soto's apartment and confiscated several electronic devices:
#URGENTE | Comisión del Sebin allanó la residencia del Luis Carlos Diaz. Se llevaron computadoras, pen drive, celulares, dinero, entre otros. A Diaz le permitieron estar en el allanamiento esposado. Relató en esos minutos que fue golpeado en su detención, a las 5:30 pm #12Mar
— SNTP (@sntpvenezuela) March 12, 2019
A commission from SEBIN searched Luis Carlos Diaz's residence. They took computers, pen drives, cellphones and money among others. They let Diaz to be present while handcuffed. During those moments, he said to have been beaten during his detention at 5:30 pm.
After authorities searched their home, and then left again, taking Díaz with them, Soto made an appeal on Twitter, asking people to accompany her to the prosecutor's office on March 12 and ask for her husband's freedom.
Naky Soto told Global Voices via WhatsApp that Diaz had been threatened days before the detention. According to online media Clases de Periodismo, Diaz had been threatened by pro government Twitter accounts after political leaders publicly alleged that Díaz had a role in orchestrating the blackout that left much of Venezuela without electricity for days. There is no evidence to support these claims.
Representatives of Provea (Education-Action Program on Human Rights) were also present during SEBIN's search and took Naky Soto's testimony:
Soto pudo conversar brevemente con Díaz, quien le relató que habría sido detenido cuando se desplazaba […] cuando se desplazaba en bicicleta a su domicilio. Asimismo, le confirmó que habría sido víctima de tratos crueles y degradantes durante su detención. La información suministrada por los funcionarios durante el allanamiento es que Díaz, supuestamente, habría cometido “delitos informáticos”.
Soto was able to speak briefly with Díaz, who told her that he had been detained while he was on his way back home by bicycle. At the same time, he confirmed that he had been victim of cruel and degrading treatments during his detention. The information given by the agents during the search was that Díaz had, allegedly, committed “computer-related crimes”.
The report added that Soto, who is recovering from breast cancer, was also wanted by the authorities:
Según el testimonio, los funcionarios habrían informado que Soto también se encontraba en la orden de aprehensión, pero que debido a su condición (paciente oncológico) no iban a proceder en los momentos. Sin embargo, “si denunciaba, la vendrían a buscar”.
According to the testimony, the agents had informed Soto that she was also wanted by the authorities, but that given her condition (as she's a cancer patient) they wouldn't proceed at the moment; but they “would come for her if [she] denounced”.
Journalist Luz Mely Reyes recounted the events and shared the video with Soto's testimony:
#LiberenaLuisCarlos Ella es @Naky. Es paciente oncológica. Su esposo,, el periodista y activista de DDHH fue detenido este #11Mar por el Sebin. Naky estará en unas horas en la sede de la Fiscalia exigiendo libertad plena para LC. ( Hilo con la historia) pic.twitter.com/M3m6p0c7A2
— Luz Mely Reyes (@LuzMelyReyes) March 12, 2019
“#FreeLuisCarlos She is Naky. She is a cancer patient. Her husband, journalist and human rights activist [Luis Carlos Díaz] was detained on March 11th by the SEBIN. Naky will be heading to the Prosecutor's headquarters in a few hours, demanding Luis Carlos’ freedom. (Thread with full story)”
Hours later, Soto was accompanied by members of Provea, the SNTP and other supporters. In her public testimony, she denounced Díaz's “arbitrary detention” and added:
“We demand his full release and we want to ask the UN's Human Rights commission in Caracas to help us know how he is physically and psychologically.”
Naky Soto, esposa del periodista Luis Carlos Díaz, asegura que el activista fue detenido usando como prueba un video alterado de una publicación hecha por él. “El acta dice que lo capturaron en flagrancia y el iba en su bicicleta. No hay manera de acusarlo de lo que intentan”. pic.twitter.com/exbHZygFTC
— SNTP (@sntpvenezuela) March 12, 2019
Naky Soto, Luis Carlos Díaz's wife, assured that the activist was detained using as proof an altered video made out of one that was shared by him [on social media]. “The record says he was caught in flagrante delicto, and he was on his bike. There's no way to accuse him as much as they're trying to.
As of 3pm local time on March 12, Díaz remained in custody and was not known to have been charged with any crime.
Global Voices’ community will continue to follow this developing story and stand in solidarity with Luis Carlos and his family.