Special Rapporteurs tell Venezuelan government they are concerned with recent attacks against media in the country

Special Rapporteurs at the UN and Inter-American Commission communicated their concerns about the deterioration of media freedom to the Venezuelan government in attempts to open a dialogue with authorities and improve the situation for journalists in the country.

“We are deeply disturbed by the recent reports of attacks against journalists and independent media groups, escalating the pressure over the Venezuelan media. This is especially alarming given the country’s food and medicine shortages, economic crisis and heightened social and political tensions,” said David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In the announcement, which was released on Aug. 4, the Rapporteurs pointed to recent reported arrests, harassment, threats and attacks on journalists, as well as judicial decisions against news outlets. The Special Rapporteurs also mentioned the closure of radio stations because of expired licenses and of newspapers due to a lack of newsprint.

They emphasized that several of these developments go against Inter American and international standards for freedom of expression.

The Special Rapporteurs pointed to reported “arrests for inquiry of at least seven journalists, media workers and the retention of their equipment,” according to the release. Lanza explained journalists are being arrested while reporting on looting or protests.

IPYS Venezuela previously reported that it recorded “at least 13 arbitrary detentions against journalists and media workers while covering matters of public interest” in the first half of 2016.

The Special Rapporteurs also mentioned attacks on media workers who were covering protests on June 2. At the time, human rights advocacy organization Espacio Público reported that at least 19 media workers were attacked in Caracas that day.

Then, attacks were reported on three newspapers at the end of June, the Special Rapporteurs explained. On June 14, the building for Correo del Caroní in Bolivar was hit with fecal matter, according to AFP. On June 17, four armed people covered the front of the Caracas headquarters for newspaper El Nacional (which recently celebrated its 73rd anniversary) with excrement and graffiti, according to the publication. And on June 20, a grenade, which did not detonate, was thrown at the offices of El Aragüeño in central Venezuela.

Lanza called on Venezuelan authorities to not only protect journalists, but to investigate and punish attacks.

“Allegations that attackers are loyal to groups supportive to the Government are also particularly worrying and require specific attention,” he said.

Regarding court cases, the Special Rapporteurs named a demand from the Supreme Court that prohibited news sites La Patilla and Caraota Digital from publishing images of lynchings.  The demand was against dissemination of lynching videos on the sites’ Twitter accounts and websites, according to La Patilla.

Kaye said they also were concerned with “the reportedly high number of radio stations operating under expired concessions because their requests for concession renewal remain ignored for unreasonable periods.” The release specifically mentioned the closure of station La Barinesa on June 10.

Lastly, they pointed out that many newspapers, like El Siglo de AraguaLa MañanaNueva PrensaEl Carabobeño and El Mío, have had to close paper editions because of newsprint shortages.

The Special Rapporteurs shared these concerns with the Venezuelan Government in a joint letter and requested authorities explain the events, according to the press release.

“The State confirmed reception of the letter, and the experts now hope that the response to their communication will enable a dialogue on these and other topics related to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” the release said.

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.

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