Venezuela: Chávez's War Against Free Speech

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Having decreed the closing of RCTV in May 2007 and theatened to close Globovision, Hugo Chávez is now pushing through laws that would limit broadcasting rights and make them subject to mandatory jail terms through a Projecto de Ley Especial Contra Delitos Mediáticos (Special Law Project Against Media Crimes).

The proposed law, which you can read here in Spanish (pdf file), includes all media and applies to not only owners and publishers but also reporters, freelancers and anyone making a statement that could be interpreted as (my translation) "any person who manipulates or distorts the news, creating a false perception of facts... as long as there is damage to social peace, national security, public order, or the mental health or public morals."

The charge carries a compulsory 2-4 year prison sentence.

Things are getting tough enough that even the UN is complaining. They specifically referred to the Globovision case:

An independent United Nations human rights expert today described the situation of justice in Venezuela as “worrying,” citing political interference with the work of judges and prosecutors in the South American nation.

Leandro Despouy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, expressed particular concern over the removal of some provisional judges and prosecutors, without cause, without procedure and without effective judicial recourse.

“The right of every person to justice should include the existence of independent and impartial judges, and for this, the stability of judges is an essential element,” Mr. Despouy said in a news release.

He cited the case of Judge Alicia Torres, who says she was pressured by a superior to prohibit the head of the Globovisión television channel, Guillermo Zuloaga Núñez, from leaving the country and was dismissed after she refused to do so.

According to media reports, prosecutors have accused Mr. Zuloaga of usury and conspiracy to commit a crime – accusations stemming from the recent seizure of 24 new vehicles on his property. Mr. Zuloaga denies any wrongdoing, saying the accusations are politically motivated, and that President Hugo Chavez is using prosecutors and judges to bring trumped-up charges against prominent opponents.

Don't expect Chávez to lose sleep over Mr. Despouy's statement.

The Projecto de Ley Especial Contra Delitos Mediáticos (Special Law Project Against Media Crimes) was presented to the National Assembly this morning by Venezuela's General Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz. It is expected to pass.

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