A popular Venezuelan YouTuber has been arrested in Caracas on terrorism charges as President Nicolás Maduro’s government steps up its crackdown on free speech ahead of upcoming elections.

Oscar Alejandro Pérez was detained in the capital’s main airport on Sunday by police on accusations of terrorism, his family said.

The 37-year-old Venezuelan was about to fly to Canaima national park, a vast swath of forest and tabletop mountains in the south of the country, but is now believed to be under interrogation by anti-terrorism investigators.

“According to available preliminary reports, the arrest is linked to accusations of terrorism-related activities,” the statement from relatives reads.

Venezuela’s government has increasingly used “terrorism” as a catch-all-term to jail opposition figures, rights observers and researchers in recent months. The accelerating crackdown is an attempt to silence all political discussion through intimidation ahead of elections expected for July, rights groups say.

The popular opposition figure Marina Carina Machado was forced to withdraw from the presidential contest last week after two of her closest aides were arrested.

Machado’s last-minute replacement, the 80-year-old philosopher Corina Yoris, was then barred from entering July’s contest by Venezuela’s electoral body.

The government is becoming increasingly indiscriminate in its crackdown, rounding up friends and family members of government targets too, say rights experts.

In February Maduro banished a UN human rights office from Caracas for criticising the arrest of the lawyer and military expert Rocío San Miguel.

Pérez’s arrest suggests Maduro is now casting the net even wider to include influencers.

The former radio host is best known for his travel videos on YouTube where he has amassed nearly 2 million followers.

Among his most recent videos Pérez gave a behind-the-scenes tour at Inter Miami Football Club, interviewed a content creator on OnlyFans and reviewed Apple’s new 3D headset.

Though based in Miami, Pérez has spent more time in Venezuela in recent years, highlighting the country’s natural beauty but also the reality of its economic collapse by showing empty resorts, supermarket shelves and gas stations.

More than 7 million Venezuelans have fled the country’s economic, social and humanitarian turmoil in the last decade – the largest exodus of people in Latin America’s recent history.

Pérez’s family said a hearing was expected for Monday in which they hoped the government “will clarify the details of the situation and ensure fair treatment in accordance with Oscar Alejandro’s legal rights”.

Following the announcement of Pérez’s arrest Maduro supporters have shared a short clip taken from one of the blogger’s videos in which he appears to mock the fragility of Venezuela’s financial system.

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Guardian

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