Olga Mata: Venezuela arrests a 72-year-old woman for making a joke about Maduro’s death on Tik Tok | International

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Olga Mata’s attempt at comedy had an unexpected ending. The 72-year-old Venezuelan tiktoker uploaded a video with a very bad joke about arepas and officials from the government of Nicolás Maduro. The recording went viral and the Prosecutor’s Office ordered her arrest for promoting and inciting hatred. This Monday he received a precautionary measure that included the recording of a new video from the police headquarters reading a public apology and explaining what was always known, that it was a joke, that he was only trying to be humorous, not to commit a crime, a difference that is not so clear in Venezuela.

Mata was arrested along with her son Florencio Gil, who appeared in a police review photo, although he was not mentioned in the arrest warrant released Monday by Tarek William Saab, attorney general and one of the protagonists of the now even more viral joke of the arepas. The video shows Mata disguised as a cook. A lady with a headscarf who sells arepas and recites the fillings with particular names of Venezuelan arepas, which can be pelúas or queen-pepiadas, among multiple combinations. The double meaning of the menu is the resource of this basic and offensive joke that required an explanation for the Venezuelan authorities and, after making news about the arrest, also for the non-Venezuelan public.

In her menu Olga says she has an arepa de perico —not the drug, but the scrambled eggs— called Diosdado Cabello with which he tries to allude to the accusations that have been made by the number two of Chavismo about his alleged links with drug trafficking. He also offers the Hugo Chávez arepa, stuffed with mortadella, a word that in criminal slang is synonymous with being dead. The arepa dedicated to Iris Varela, today a deputy but for years in charge of Venezuelan prisons, is made of Harina Pran, making a play on words between the traditional brand of Venezuelan corn flour (Harina PAN) and the name given to criminal bosses in prisons.

The arepa to which he named the prosecutor was filled with eggs, with a homophobic message to insinuate the alleged sexual orientation, according to the tiktoker. But it was Cilia Flores’ arepa for which Olga had to put more emphasis on her regret to the point of stumbling while she read the word “assassination” in the apology video that she had to record to obtain parole. In the mention of the first lady is the auction of the failed joke. The arepa seller offers the Cilia Flores arepa as “the widow”, as they are called in Venezuela to those that do not have filling and usually accompany the boiled ones like a bread. A supposed client, who does not appear on camera, tells him that Nicolás Maduro’s wife is not her widow. And Mata, in character, says: “But that’s what we all want.”

The video of the arepas for which she was wanted by the police is no longer on the Tik Tok account @olgamata_50. In his profile he claims to “live each day as if it were the last” and accumulates 156,000 followers and 763,000 likes of his content full of the typical audios for dubbing, although with little talent for synchronization, and the choreographies that are trending. At the end of the apology video, she justifies herself by insisting that it was not just humor but that it had been copied from another video, in the endless repetition of similar videos that is the popular Chinese social network.

the apology recording was spread by the prosecutor on his Twitter. “The lady who, through her social network, called to kill the President of the Republic @NicolasMaduro publicly apologized for her message.” The NGO Espacio Público denounced what happened with the tiktoker as a violation of freedom of expression. “Recording and disseminating a video exercising your right to freedom of expression in your individual and social dimension, through humor, is not a reason for arrest nor is it a crime,” they wrote in a tweet. The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights echoed this. “In a full democracy, political leaders are tolerant of criticism, the prosecution does not pursue satire and there are greater guarantees for the expression of those with less power. The case of Olga Mata in Venezuela shows all the repressive weight from power over citizen expression”, replied Pedro Vaca.

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In Venezuela, comedy programs on television and radio disappeared in the times of Hugo Chávez, but the persecution of critics and dissidence against the Government has intensified since the so-called Constitutional Law against Hate for Peaceful Coexistence and the tolerance. This regulation was drafted in the Constituent Assembly that Maduro convened to turn it into a counterpower to the Parliament that by then controlled the opposition, since it was dissolved without drafting a new Constitution when Chavismo returned to control the Legislative Power. Human rights defenders and jurists have denounced the unconstitutionality of the body and the laws that came out of it. Yet they are still valid.

A report by Espacio Público indicates that since this law was approved and until mid-2021, 101 violations of freedom of expression had been registered in which this norm was used or invoked. Judicial harassment, arrest and censorship are the majority of those cases. That of Olga Mata and her arepas joins that of other Venezuelans arrested for commenting on Twitter, writing opinion articles or recording humorous videos about some high-ranking Chavismo official, in an unfortunate attempt to make people laugh like Chris Rock at the Oscars. , but with worse consequences than the Will Smith slap.

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