The Supreme Court of Venezuela sentenced news site La Patilla to pay US $5 million to the Maduro regime’s second-in-command, who sued it for republishing a story linking him to drug trafficking.
The Civil Cassation Court found that a special appeal from Inversiones Watermelon, C.A, the commercial company to which La Patilla belongs, was without recourse, according to CNN Español. It will now have to pay 30 billion sovereign bolivars for moral damage to Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Constituent Assembly.
Cabello is also the vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, for its initials in Spanish), which was founded by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. From January 2012 to January 2016, he was president of the National Assembly.
In 2015, the politician sued La Patilla, along with newspapers Tal Cual and El Nacional, after the three outlets re-published an article from Spanish newspaper ABC that linked him with drug trafficking cartels, Espacio Público reported.
According to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), 22 executives from the three publications were restricted from leaving Venezuela.
Three years later, in 2018, El Nacional was ordered by a judge in the Third Court of the First Instance in Civil, Commercial, Transit and Banking of Caracas to pay Cabello one billion bolivars for moral damages.
Following publication of the latest sentence against La Patilla, Alberto Ravell, founder of the news site, wrote via Twitter: “Diosdado, your judicial terrorism does not intimidate me and does not exonerate your crimes.”
Along with the hashtag #LapatillaNoSeRinde (La Patilla Does Not Give Up), the news site wrote via Twitter, “For nine years, @la_patilla has been with Venezuelans, overcoming the fences of censorship and informing the citizens and so it will continue. There will be no regime or dictatorship that kills her.”
For his part, Cabello has denied being part of the drug trade, as reported by Reuters.
International organizations and governments have spoken against the sentence.
“We lament that we are once again before a case of persecution carried out by a politicized and biased justice system, as is the Venezuelan one, which always acts with the intent of defending officials of the regime, in detriment to the right of the public to information,” said María Elvira Domínguez, president of the IAPA, according to an organization release.
“5M dollars is equal to closing it,” wrote Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), via Twitter.
Kimberly Breier, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, expressed solidarity with Ravell and the news site. “Freedom of expression should never be held hostage to extortion,” she Tweeted.
In 2016, Cabello sued Dow Jones & Co, the owner of The Wall Street Journal, after the U.S. newspaper published an article that reported the politician was a target in a U.S. investigation into drug trafficking, according to Reuters. A U.S. court threw out the case, saying Cabello did not explain in what way the report was false.