WASHINGTON / GENEVA (4 August 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the Inter- American Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Edison Lanza, today raised the alarm about the continuing erosion of media freedom in Venezuela.
“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 medicines shortages, economic crisis and heightened social and political tensions,” they stressed.
The experts drew attention to recent reports of arrests for inquiry of at least seven journalists, media workers and the retention of their work equipment. “We are alarmed by the reports of journalists who were arrested while covering lootings or when informing the public on protests,” Mr. Lanza said.
“Law enforcement agents must protect and not harass reporters and journalists who are carrying out their legitimate work informing the public,” said Mr. Kaye. “Threats or attacks against journalists and the media not only violate the rights of these persons but undermine the ability of Venezuelans and others elsewhere to be informed on events of critical importance.”
“Reports of recent attacks against journalists covering the impact of the recent economic crisis on the ground also deserve urgent attention,” continued Mr. Lanza while commenting on the reported attacks against journalists covering food shortage protests in Caracas last 2 June, and the attacks against the newspapers El Aragüeño, El Caroní, and El Nacional at the end of the same month.
The Inter American Rapporteur underlined that the State has the duty to ensure the safety of journalists and must respond without delay to violence and intimidation reports: “It is essential for the Venezuelan authorities to act with due diligence and swiftness to establish the facts and punish those responsible. Allegations that attackers are loyal to groups supportive to the Government are also particularly worrying and require specific attention.”
“The harassment of the media by law enforcement agents obviously hampers journalists’ ability to carry their vital work and propagate a powerful chilling effect affecting the entire society,” Mr. Kaye added.
A worrying trend
The experts also noted their concerns over recent judicial decisions and other measures which greatly increase the pressure over media further limiting their capacity to carry their work with independence.
The Supreme Court of Venezuela ordered on 8 June the website news La Patilla and Caraota Digital to refrain from disseminating videos of lynching through its webpage and social media. This decision can be extended to other media in the country.
“This recent Supreme Court’s decision establishes a disproportional and unreasonable restriction confronting Inter American and global standards for the right to freedom of expression. The exercise of the right to freedom of expression cannot be subject to prior censorship,” Mr. Lanza stated.
“We are also disturbed by the reportedly high number of radio stations operating under expired concessions because their requests for concession renewal remain ignored for unreasonable periods,” noted Mr. Kaye. “International standards are also clear on this matter: precisely to prevent abuses, procedures for licensing broadcasters must be reasonable, objective, clear, transparent and non-discriminatory.”
The experts noted with great concern the closure of the radio station La Barinesa on 10 June, reportedly because of its expired licence. “The adoption of extreme measures such as the closure of a radio station must be grounded on very firm grounds and only used as a last resort,” Mr. Lanza pointed out.
Finally, they expressed concern about the cessation of activities of newspapers affected by the shortage of paper to print their editions. This year, the shortage has reportedly affected the circulation of paper such as El Siglo de Aragua, La Mañana, Nueva Prensa, El Carabobeño and El Mío. “The recurrent lack of newsprint is just another obstacle faced by Venezuelan media requiring a quick explanation and solution from the side of the country authorities,” concluded Mr. Kaye.
The two human rights experts sent a joint letter to the Venezuelan Government expressing these concerns and requesting their clarification on the reported events. 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.
Mr. David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Mr. Edison Lanza (Uruguay) was appointed as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in July 2014 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defence of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system. For more information, log on to:
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