Severe Setbacks for Freedom of Expression
International PEN is alarmed by a series of restrictions imposed on the media by the Venezuelan government over the last week that indicates a serious deterioration in the situation of freedom of expression in the country. PEN is especially concerned by proposals that would lead to heavy prison sentences against writers and journalists who criticize the authorities. PEN is calling on the Venezuelan authorities to scrap the proposed new legislation and to adhere to international standards that safeguard the right to free expression.
On July 30, 2009, the Venezuelan attorney general 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 next day, July 31, the telecoms regulator CONATEL revoked the broadcast licenses of 34 radio and television stations without warning, allegedly for technical reasons; another 200 stations are reportedly also at risk. On August 3, a group of armed pro-government supporters 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.
PEN protests these developments in the strongest possible terms and urges the Venezuela authorities to scrap the media bill allowing prison sentences for press offenses. PEN also calls on the authorities to reconsider the revocation of radio and television stations’ broadcast licenses and to ensure that those responsible for the attack against Globovisión are brought to justice.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued the following press release about the deterioration of the situation of freedom of expression in Venezuela:
Washington, August 3, 2009—The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) is deeply concerned about the deterioration of the situation of freedom of expression in Venezuela. Since 2000, the IACHR has observed a gradual deterioration and restriction on the exercise of this right in Venezuela, as well as a rising intolerance of critical expression. Through information received by the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, over the past few days the Commission has known new facts that show that the situation is growing more serious, such as the closing of 34 radio stations, the armed attack on the Globovisión channel and the presentation of a bill that seeks to impose new restrictions on the freedom of expression.
By a July 31, 2009 decision of the National Council of Telecommunications (CONATEL), 34 radio stations operating in AM and FM were forced to cease broadcasting immediately. The decisions that revoked the permits or licenses were allegedly based on technical reasons related to the massive lack of compliance with some of the regulations of the telecommunications law. According to the information received, the competent 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 IACHR is concerned by the existence of elements that suggest that the editorial stance of these media outlets have been one of the reasons for their closure. The Commission recognizes the Government’s competency to regulate radio frequencies, but emphasizes that this competency has to be used with strict observance of due process and with respect to the Inter-American standards that guarantee freedom of expression of all persons. In particular, the limitations imposed to freedom of expression must not incite intolerance, nor be discriminatory or have discriminatory effects or be based on the editorial line of the media.
Recently, the Attorney General of Venezuela, Luisa Ortega Diaz, presented a bill to the National Assembly with the objective of punishing these “media-related crimes.” The bill sets prison sentences of up to 4 years for persons that disseminate “false” information or information “against the interests of the State.” The bill also establishes sentences of up to 4 years for people who refuse to report “facts or situations in which the lack of disclosure constitutes an infringement of the right of information.” If approved, this bill would be a serious step backwards in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela.
Likewise, the IACHR received information that on August 3, 2009, armed persons entered the headquarters of Globovisión by force and threw tear gas canisters. This attack is one of many acts of violence that have occurred in recent years against journalists and employees of Globovisión and other media organizations that take a critical stance towards the Government. The IACHR urges the State to investigate these acts, punish those responsible and adopt all of the necessary measures to ensure the life and personal integrity of the journalists and employees of Globovisión, and of all of the media organizations in a way in which they can continue their work unrestricted.
The IACHR has repeatedly expressed its serious concern about the situation of freedom of expression in Venezuela. Likewise, the IACHR’s Rapporteurship of Freedom of Expression has voiced its concern and has submitted several communications to the State requesting information and expressing the need of legal and administrative regulations to comply with Inter-American standards on the subject. The closing of 34 radio stations, the threats of further closures, the aggression toward journalists, the attacks on media outlets that take a critical stance and the recent bill of law all represent serious limitations to the free exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela.
The IACHR is preparing a report about the general human rights situation in Venezuela. The requests for information about topics regarding freedom of expression form part of the efforts of the Inter-American Commission to obtain materials for the elaboration of its report.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.
Write A Letter
- Strongly protesting the media bill that would allow “press crimes” to be punished by up to four years in prison; the revoking without warning of the broadcast licenses of 34 radio and television stations; and the tear-gas attack on Globovisión by pro-government supporters. PEN believes that these developments represent serious a set-back in terms of Venezuelans’ right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Venezuela is party;
- Urging the Venezuela authorities to scrap the media bill allowing prison sentences of up to four years for press offenses;
- Calling on them to reconsider the July 31, 2009 revocation of 34 radio and television stations’ broadcast license;
- Also calling on the authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the attack against Globovisión and to provide the station’s employees with the necessary protection to carry out their legitimate journalistic work.
Send Your Letter To
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
Salutation: Dear Mr. President/Sr. Presidente
Dra. Luisa Ortega Díaz
Fiscalía General de la República
Avda. México, Manduca a Pelelojo
Edif. Sede Fiscalía Geneal de la República, La Candelaria
Fax: +58 212 509 8504
Salutation: Señora Fiscal General/ Dear Attorney General
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Venezuela in your country if possible.
Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after October 5, 2009: ftw[at]pen.org