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Venezuela February 18, 2005
H.E. Hugo Chávez Frías
Palacio de Miraflores
Republic of Venezuela
Fax: (011.582) 21-162
We write to express yet again the Overseas Press Club of America’s serious concern about threats to press freedom in Venezuela. Your government continues to write into law restrictive measures in order to stifle the private media and foster an environment of self-censorship.
On December 2, 2004, the National Assembly approved reforms to more than 30 articles in the Penal Code broadening the categories of government officials protected by the desacato (disrespect) provisions, which criminalize expressions that are offensive to public officials and state institutions. These reforms have resulted in severe criminal penalties for defamation and slander.
Shortly after, the National Assembly passed the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, which went into effect two days later. Drafted by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), and introduced in January 2003 by pro-government legislators, the law was written to “establish the social responsibility” of TV and radio broadcasters and is also characterized by broad language and harsh penalties.
The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC), an international organization that has defended journalists around the world for more than 60 years, believes that the vague and excessively punitive nature of these laws have the potential to create an environment of self-censorship out of fear of government reprisal. The new legislation violates widely accepted standards for the exercise of freedom of expression, including recent legal opinions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that clearly suggest that criminal penalties for defamation are an unnecessary restriction on freedom of expression and should be abolished.
We urge you to support a repeal of criminal defamation and desacato provisions and back new legislation that will allow for the continued free expression of all political views.
We thank you for your attention and look forward to your prompt reply.
Freedom of the Press Committee
Ambassador of Venezuela to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Venezuela
1099 30th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Fax: (202) 342-6820
Ambassador Milos Alcalay
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Venezuela
to the United Nations
335 East 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 557-2055
Charles S. Shapiro
U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela
Embassy of the United States of America
Calle F con Calle Suapuro
Urb. Colinas de Valle Arriva
Fax: (011.58.212) 975 8502
Director – Editor General
Jefe de Informacion