Thirty-three men were arrested in a popular spot among the LGBT+ community in Valencia, Venezuela on July 23. After the arrest, the men’s names, photos and ID cards were shared in the media and online. Since released, the men are still awaiting legal proceedings. Venezuelan associations have denounced what they see as a growing trend of “criminalisation” of LGBT+ individuals and institutionalised homophobia in Venezuela.
Issued on: 04/08/2023 – 14:39
On July 23, police arrested 33 men at the Avalon Man Club, a private sauna and spa frequented by the LGBT+ community in Valencia, in the northern Venezuelan state of Carabobo. The operation was allegedly carried out after an anonymous tip-off.
The men were taken to the police station, where they were photographed lined up along a wall. Police photographed their belongings, including identity papers, mobile phones and condoms. These images were shared in the local media and on social networks with their identities left unredacted. The men’s names and ages were shared publicly as well.
‘The police and local media have stigmatised and criminalised them’
These 33 men were arrested arbitrarily, without a judicial warrant or search warrant. What’s more, the police and local media then spread personal information about them and declared that one of them had HIV, in order to stigmatise them, criminalise them, give the impression that they were a danger to society, and thus justify the violation of their rights. At first, it was even said that they were taking part in an orgy and filming pornographic scenes…
A number of journalists’ organisations have also criticised the way in which certain media outlets have handled the case, adopting all the information provided by the police.
On Twitter, the National College of Journalists (CNP) said that “reproducing information that stigmatises and denigrates the people involved” was a “violation of human rights”, and pointed out that the media should “respect the presumption of innocence and protect the identity of anyone accused of illegal acts”.
— Carolina Jaimes Branger (@cjaimesb) July 26, 2023
In this video broadcast on July 26, the men arrested in Valencia are transported by the police in pick-ups.
Charged with, among other things, public indecency
On July 26, the 33 men were taken to the Valencia courthouse. The court upheld three charges brought by the public prosecutor against them: public indecency – an offence punishable by several months in prison – as well as unlawful association and noise pollution. At the end of the hearing, 30 of them were released, but with the obligation to report to the authorities every 30 days.
esto me parece una LOCURA. a los 10 restantes de la redada homofóbica los tienen esposados para presentación en el palacio de justicia de carabobo!!! pic.twitter.com/LQkbaKwC5O
— Joel (@joeleando) July 25, 2023
“Justice, justice”, chanted people gathered outside the Valencia courthouse as the arrested men got off a bus on July 25, the date initially scheduled for the hearing.
Nos encontramos en el Palacio de Justicia del estado Carabobo junto a los familiares y varixs activistas para exigir la liberación inmediata de las 33 personas LGBTIQ+ que fueron detenidas arbitrariamente el pasado fin de semana.
— País Plural (@tupais_plural) July 26, 2023
“There is no crime”, shout the protesters gathered outside the Valencia courthouse on July 26 to demand the release of the 33 men.
On August 2, the three others – the owner of the establishment and two employees – were also released. They too have to report back every 30 days.
But things did not end there. The charges against the men have not been dismissed, despite demands from activists. On August 1, the public prosecutor announced that the case could possibly be dismissed.
‘The current situation sets a legal precedent’
Jau Ramírez continued:
Between January 2021 and December 2022, we documented 11 arbitrary arrests of LGBTIQ+ people, carried out by the security forces. In four cases, they were accompanied by extortion, physical, verbal and psychological violence and acts of torture. There were also four police raids on LGBTIQ+ leisure facilities in Caracas, Maracaibo and Mérida.
So the case of the 33 men arrested is not a first. But in previous cases, the men were released after a few hours, without being reported to the police or charged with any offence. In this case, the men have remained in detention for a long time, without any justification, and the charges against them are still unclear and questionable.
We therefore consider that the current situation set a legal precedent. We haven’t seen anything like this in Venezuela since the late 1990s. Since the beginning of this case, the police and judiciary have acted in a homophobic manner, with the aim of criminalising LGBTIQ+ people.
This escalation of repression is a threat to the fundamental rights and sexual and personal freedoms of everyone in Venezuela.
“Ni más, ni menos, iguales derechos”
33 hombres homosexuales fueron arbitrariamente detenidos, víctimas de criminalización y… pic.twitter.com/LGhv4KybwE
— PROVEA (@_Provea) July 28, 2023
Rally on July 28 in Caracas to ” demand an end to the criminalisation of people from the #LGBTIQ+ community in Venezuela”.
Closer links between the authorities and evangelicals
For Jau Ramírez, this repression goes hand in hand with “the interference of ultra-religious groups and their dogmatism in state institutions”. He cites a few examples:
In 2019, President Nicolás Maduro created the National Day of the Evangelical Pastor. In 2022, his son was appointed vice president of religious affairs within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, a new position. In 2023, Nicolás Maduro also created the “My well-equipped church” programme [Editor’s note: equipping evangelical groups with seats, fans, microphones, etc.].
Nicolás Maduro has recently forged closer ties to certain evangelical sectors, which have been very active in opposing the rights of the LGBT+ community. In July, the government decided that religious groups would be consulted on any legislative initiative involving the family. This rapprochement is part of a “political strategy” with a view to 2024 and the presidential election, according to the Spanish daily El País.
Venezuela’s LGBT+ community has been fighting for years against discrimination and for access to equal rights, including marriage for all. In March 2023, the courts overturned a provision that provided for a prison sentence of between one and three years for military personnel accused of “unnatural sexual acts”.