Knight Center
Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

IACHR urges the Venezuelan government to guarantee free exercise of journalism and publicly condemn violence against the press



Severe restrictions on freedom of expression that include censorship and closure of media outlets, assaults and attacks against journalists and criminalization of opinion contrary to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, were documented by an annual report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The report specifically analyzed the situation of human rights in Venezuela during 2017.

Social protest and freedom of expression is one of the main foci of the report. In this section, the IACHR report was emphatic in recommending that the Maduro government offer the maximum degree of guarantees so that journalists are not threatened or attacked for exercising their profession, especially in the context of a public demonstration.

The international body also urged the Venezuelan government to publicly condemn acts of violence against social communicators and the media in order to end the climate of stigmatization against those who have a critical line toward the government. The IACHR also recommended removing all disproportionate or discriminatory restrictions that prevent the media from fulfilling their commercial, social or public mission.

Likewise, the IACHR expressed its concern regarding the approval of the Constitutional Law for the Promotion and Guarantee of Peaceful Coexistence presented by Maduro. According to that law, anyone who promotes publicly and through any means, violence, hatred against any religious, political, ethnic, social group, among others, could receive a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison. The objective of this law is to counteract “the campaign of hate, terror and violence wages by extremists among the opposition.”

This law, approved on Nov. 8, 2017, also prohibits in any media "all propaganda and messages in support of war and any defense of hatred based on nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, politics, social group, ideology, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and of any other nature that constitutes an invitation to discrimination, hostility, intolerance, or violence.”

Regarding the issues addressed in the chapter on freedom of expression, the IACHR document considered it important to analyze the attacks and acts of harassment against journalists, the detention and expulsion of foreign journalists, the criminalization of criticism and journalistic work, indirect censorship and mass media closure due to editorial lines, internet and freedom of expression, and access to public information.

Attacks and arbitrary detentions of the press

According to the IACHR report, journalists and Venezuelan media faced various situations of violence during the course of their work in 2017. These include physical aggressions, arbitrary detentions, cancellation of passports, theft or destruction of equipment, work materials and belongings, perpetrated by public officials, agents of the armed forces, collectives and citizens.

A photo from the June 2017 protests in Venezuela. (By Oscar . (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

For example, columnist Miguel Rondón of the critical newspaper El Nacional, was arrested at the Caracas international airport, along with his entire family, on May 17, 2017. All of them had their passports canceled. Days before, on May 12, the journalist had made comments on his Twitter account about the situation of the opponents of Maduro's government who are in exile. According to Maduro, with his Tweet, Rondón had promoted persecution, and that is why he should be imprisoned.

The IACHR also cited cases of assaults and arbitrary detentions reported by the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP, for its initials in Spanish) of Venezuela. According to the organization, 106 journalists were attacked and 14 were detained by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) between March 31 and April 25, 2017.

These attacks took place during citizen protests against the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision to suspend the powers of the National Constituent Assembly on the night of March 29.

Some of the detentions lasted several days, as was the case of journalist Yonathan Guédez, arrested on April 24 while covering Lara's protests and released 16 days later under parole, the report said.

According to the IACHR, Venezuelan civil society organizations have denounced that many of these attacks and acts of violence against the press remain unpunished.

Foreign press

The report indicates that at least 30 foreign journalists have been expelled or prevented from entering Venezuela between 2016 and 2017. The document highlighted the cases of Aitor Sáez, correspondent of Deutsche Welle; Brazilian journalists Leandro Stoliar and Gilson Fred Oliveira of RecordTV; the Chilean journalist Patricio Nunes, from Canal 13; English journalists Ian O'Reilly and Stephen Sackur of the BBC; French journalists Sebastián Pérez and Didier Barral from Agencia CAPA; the Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata; Chilean journalist Gabriela Donoso, from Reuters; and the Dutch journalist Bram Ebus.

The arrests and expulsions of the aforementioned journalists were justified by the government who said they were not properly accredited. However, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur maintained in its report that journalists should not be required to license or register to perform their work.

The document noted that accreditation and registration schemes for journalists are only appropriate if they are necessary to grant them privileged access to places or events. Also, decisions on accreditation must be neutral without discriminating the type of coverage or the editorial line.

Criminalization of journalistic work

Criminal defamation, betrayal of the homeland and instigation of violence are the crimes that Venezuelan justice usually uses to accuse journalists, the media and citizens in general in order to inhibit critical opinions, according to the report.

Criminal proceedings for these crimes and that have no evidence or contain false evidence are prolonged and impose afflictive measures for people and the media, according to the report. For example, they include pre-trial detention orders, censorship measures, prohibition of leaving the country and high bail.

These measures violate the principles of legality and inter-American standards, mainly the crime of criminal defamation, the document said. Above all, according to the document, because they tend to occur after the high authorities of the State called on public entities to "act" against the people prosecuted.

In this respect, the IACHR mentioned the cases of the newspapers El Nacional, La Patilla and Tal Cual. Directors Henrique Miguel Otero (El Nacional), Alfredo Ravell (La Patilla) and Teodoro Petkoff (Tal Cual) were denounced for defamation in April 2015 by then-president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. This happened after the three media aired a report in the Spanish newspaper ABC in which a former official of Cabello accused him of having links with drug trafficking, which was denied by Cabello.

Cabello also civilly denounced the directors for moral damage. The criminal trial against Otero, Ravell and Petkoff, which could convict them up to four years in prison, continues to this day.

The IACHR also considered it important to note the case of Chilean-Venezuelan journalist Braulio Jatar, journalist and director of the site Reporte Confidencial and columnist of Reporte Económico, as well as conductor of radio programs on Margarita Island, state of Nuevo Esparta. Jatar was arrested without a warrant by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin). This happened on Sept. 3, 2016, hours after Reporte Confidencial published a video of a citizen protest against Maduro’s visit to Margarita.

Jatar spent nine months in different Venezuelan prisons, which seriously damaged his health. Thanks to international pressure from journalists, human rights organizations, and diplomacy from the Chilean government, Jatar was placed under house arrest. He is charged with money laundering.

Closure and censorship of media

The IACHR regretted the closure of more than 50 media outlets during 2017 in Venezuela. For example, the report said, cable television removed the Colombian channels Caracol TV and RCN from its channel grid, on orders from the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel). In this regard the Deputy Minister for International Communication of the Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs declared to an official media that both channels were instruments of media war in Venezuela, and that they were an aggression against "venezonalidad.”

Conatel also ordered the closure of 49 radio stations nationwide during 2017.

Most of the media that operate in Venezuela do so with expired licenses, and the regulatory body does not guarantee them the awarding or renewal of these frequencies, stressed the Office of the Special Rapporteur.

In response to a draft copy of the IACHR report, the Venezuelan state said “the draft Country Report presents a selective and highly biased view of the true human rights situation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, violating the principles that should apply to the treatment of human rights matters.” The State criticized the methodology used in the report and the sources consulted, which it said ignores documentation from the State.

 



Topics:

Newsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter "Journalism in the Americas"

Boletim Semanal (Português)
Boletín Semanal (Español)
Weekly Newsletter (English)
 
Marketing by ActiveCampaign

Facebook