GENEVA – The proposed ‘Special Law against Media Crimes’ in Venezuela, presented by the Attorney-General to the National Assembly, “would involve serious violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and would curtail press freedom in the country, if it is adopted in its current form,” warned the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue.
The UN Human Rights Council expert noted that the inclusion of the concept of ‘media crimes’ in the draft legislation is particularly worrying, noting that “it could be used as a tool for political intimidation which may lead to the criminalisation of dissent and criticism.” He also added that such measures would “undermine pluralism of the media, and consequently transparency and debate on matters of public interest that should exist in a democratic society”.
“No Government in the world has the right to silence critics or those who oppose the State with threats of criminal proceedings”, said La Rue, and added that “transparency implies that access to information along with the right to freely express one’s opinion and belief without limitation is guaranteed.”
He recalled that articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights*, to which Venezuela is a party, guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression and also defines when the right may be restricted. However, he noted that “the legitimate criteria included in the human rights standards outlined in the Covenant cannot be used to criminalise free speech.”
The UN expert stressed that “restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be provided for by law and applied by an independent Court”, adding that “under no circumstances should limitations be established through the policy decisions of the Government”.
The Special Rapporteur appealed to the members of the National Assembly to incorporate international human rights principles in the discussion of the draft law. “In this regard, I stand ready to provide technical support and assistance to promote and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Venezuela”, he concluded.
(*) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm