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December 11, 2018 - Updated on December 12, 2018

German journalist held in Venezuela facing 28 years in prison on spying charges

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Billy Six, a German freelance journalist who has been held in Caracas since 17 November on charges of spying, rebellion and “violating security zones,” and who is not being allowed contact with anyone in the outside world except his parents.

A reporter for various German media outlets including the ultra-conservative and nationalist publications Junge Freiheit and Deutschland Magazin, the 32-year-old Six is facing the possibility of up to 28 years in prison on the three charges, which have been brought before a military court.


So far, the Venezuelan authorities have not produced any evidence to support these accusations and have not issued any statement about the case.


According to the NGO Espacio Público, Six was arrested by Venezuelan military counter-intelligence in the northwestern state of Falcón on 17 November after entering Venezuela across the Colombian border, and was then transferred, without an arrest warrant, to the military detention centre known as El Hélicoïde at the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).


Only his parents have been able to talk to him directly since his arrest. The security forces have forbidden any other contact with the outside world, including the German embassy and a lawyer. 


“The way Billy Six is being treated is shocking and disgraceful,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “The Venezuelan authorities must immediately publish the charges against this journalist and release him, so that he can prepare his defence.”

Colombié added: “It is also inconceivable that a civilian should be subjected to a military prosecution in Venezuela. This is a grave violation of both Venezuela’s own laws and its international obligations. A journalist has no place being tried before a military court.”


Six’s family told RSF that it is the photos he took at the independence day military parades in Caracas on 5 July 2017 and 2018, and at a campaign meeting by President Maduro in May 2018 that are being used as grounds for the charges of spying and “violating security zones.” And a meeting he had with members of the former Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC, is being used as grounds for the rebellion charge.


The German consulate has managed to provide Six with assistance but has so far refused to comment publicly on the case.


To dispute the credibility of national and international criticism of his government, President Maduro often claims that he is the target of a “media war,” thereby fuelling a climate of extreme tension for journalists in Venezuela, especially since the start of the political and economic crisis in 2016. Foreign journalists are often arrested and deported.


Venezuela is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.