Government censorship in Venezuela increased by 87% compared to 2012, organizations say

So far this year, there have been 71 cases of censorship of journalists and media in Venezuela, meaning 87 percent more cases than there were over the same period last year, according to Venezuelan organizations that defend freedom of expression and information access that spoke about the situation in their country on Oct. 31 before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) during its 149th session.

The Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Venezuela and Espacio Público, among other organizations, said that legal intimidation, impunity in attacks on freedom of expression and a shortage of newsprint continue to threaten Venezuela media. They also listed with concern the creation of the Strategic Center for Safety and Protection of the Homeland (Cesppa), which they fear will increase restrictions on public information access.

Espacio Público’s Gloria Salazar said that the situation has worsened significantly over the last year. Violations of the right to freedom of expression, for example, increased by 56 percent compared to last year. Salazar pointed out that several television and radio programs that reported on political issues and were opposed to the government have shut down. "Every four days there is a case of censorship in Venezuela," she added.

The director of IPYS of Venezuela, Marianella Balbi, said that so far in 2013 the organization has documented 20 legal actions against journalists, a figure significantly higher than the four cases that were recorded during the first nine months of 2012. According to the organization, Venezuela has reached its highest levels of restrictions in the past 11 years.

Ligia Bolivar from the Human Rights Center of the Catholic University Andrés Bello (CDH-UCAB) said that during the presidential elections in April this year, there were four journalists detained, another 33 suffered physical assaults and robberies of their equipment, several web portals were blocked and nearly 300 protesters were arrested.

Pertaining to the shortage of newsprint, Venezuelan organizations detailed to the IACHR the closure of at least three newspapers, and that those which remain in circulation, like El Nacional, have eliminated supplements in order to reserve paper.

Luis Brito García attended the meeting on behalf of the Venezuelan government and said that the "restriction of press freedom in Venezuela is absolutely unacceptable under any logical principle." He said that accusations made by the social organizations were not true and lacked foundation.

About the Cesppa, Brito García said that it will be not be a censorship mechanism and that the country does not restrict access to information.

Catalina Botero, the IACHR's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, who was also present at the meeting, said that disproportionate restrictions also violate the right to freedom of expression, citing the example of the journalist who was brought to trial for posting on Twitter "gasoline is distributed per drop in Venezuela." Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has called for "an exemplary punishment" for the journalist.

What social organizations request from the Venezuelan government is to put an end to the criminalization and censorship that violate the rights to freedom of expression and free access to information in the country, rights that are protected by the country's Constitution and by international standards on human rights.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.