Human Rights Watch warns Venezuela's concentration of power deteriorates freedom of expression

By Isabela Fraga

The freedom of expression situation in Venezuela has deteriorated since 2008, due to President Hugo Chávez's abundant power abuses, according to a report by the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), released on Tuesday, July 17, reported the newspaper El Tiempo.

According to the report titled "Venezuela: Concentration and Abuse of Power Under Chávez," the possibility of reprisal on behalf of the Venezuelan government is making journalists think twice before publishing information and government criticisms, reported the news portal UOL.

"Now a days, this system [in which the government can intimidate and punish Venezuelans who interfere with Chavez's political agenda] is firmly in place, and the risks that judges, journalists, and human rights advocates encounter have never been as serious since Chavez's administration," said José Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW for the Americas, during the report's presentation.

The HRW report has a chapter dedicated to the Venezuelan government's actions against the press in the country. Episodes such as an approved constitutional amendment in 2010 that restricts freedom of expression on the Internet, the increase of state owned TV channels - from one to six - ; sanctions against the TV channel Globovisión, the closing of RCTV - the oldest private TV station in the country - in 2007, and other censorship and sanctions against private news media outlets were mentioned in the report.

The report concludes with recommendations for the Chávez government. With freedom of expression, the HRW said that "the Venezuelan authorities should modify or abolish the laws that provide public officials with excessive power for censoring and punishing opposition, and stop applying policies and practices that attack freedom of expression, especially those that generate wrongful pressure for self-censorship among reporters and hosts."

Chavez's public officials received HRW's report with criticism. The Venezuelan embassy in Brazil said, for example, that the Venezuelan government doesn't restrict freedom of expression, but instead promotes the creation of new news media outlets, reported the news site Ópera Mundi. General attorney Luisa Ortega Díaz also said the report was "insolent, disrespectful and unacceptable to all Venezuelans," reported Globovisión.

In January of 2012, HRW's world report accused the Venezuelan government of controlling the press in the country.

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.