August 6, 2009

Sr. Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías
Ministerio del Poder Popular del Despacho de la Presidencia
Final Avenida Urdaneta, Esq. de Bolero, Palacio de Miraflores
Caracas, Distrito Capital, Venezuela
Fax: +58 212 806 3111/ +58 212 806 3229

Attorney General
Dra. Luisa Ortega Díaz
Fiscalía General de la República
Avda. México, Manduca a Pelelojo
Edif. Sede Fiscalía Geneal de la República, La Candelaria
Caracas, Venezuela
Fax: +58 212 509 8504

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the recent restrictions imposed on the media by Venezuelan authorities.

According to our information, on July 30, 2009, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz presented a bill that would allow “press crimes”—including the publication of information deemed to be “false” or “against the interests of the State”—to be punished by up to four years in prison. The following day, July 31, the telecoms regulator CONATEL revoked the broadcast licenses of 34 radio and television stations without prior warning, allegedly for technical reasons. It is estimated that another 200 stations are at risk. On August 3, a group of pro-government supporters reportedly attacked the headquarters of the private television station Globovisión, which is known for its criticism of the Chávez administration, and released tear gas. Globovisión is also at risk of losing its license.

Following the attacks on Globovisión, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release expressing its concern about the deterioration of freedom of expression in Venezuela. According to the IACHR, “Authorities announced that one of their reasons to proceed with these closures of radio and television stations was that these stations ‘play at destabilizing Venezuela.’” The Commission recognizes the rights of Venezuelan authorities to regulate public broadcasts, “but emphasizes that this [right] has to be used with strict observance of due process” and without regard to the media’s editorial stances.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that these recent developments against the media infringe upon Venezuelan citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Venezuela is a signatory. We therefore call on the Venezuelan authorities to scrap the media bill permitting prison sentences of up to four years for press offenses, to restore those radio and television stations’ broadcast licenses that have been revoked, and to ensure that those responsible for the attack against Globovisión are brought to justice.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula                 
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee  

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: His Excellency Bernardo Alvarez Herrera
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the United States
1099 30th St., N.W.
Washington D.C. 20007
Fax : (202) 342-6820

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