Freedom of Expression

Press Release R34/16

Office of the Special Rapporteur Expresses Concern over Defamation Conviction in Venezuela


March 14, 2016


Washington D.C. – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the conviction handed down on March 11 by the Sixth Criminal Trial Court for the State of Bolívar, Venezuela, against David Natera Febres, the director of the newspaper Correo del Caroní, for the commission of criminal defamation offenses [difamación e injuria continuada] against a private contractor of Venezuela’s state-owned iron mining company.


According to the information available, the court sentenced Natera Febres to four years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 1,137 tax units (approximately US $20,125 at the official rate). The court barred Natera from leaving the country and ordered him to report to the court every 30 days until the conviction becomes final and can be carried out. The judge also issued an injunction prohibiting the disposal or encumbrance of the newspaper’s assets, and ordered that Correo del Caroní stop publishing information about the corruption case involving the complainant. According to the information obtained, this prohibition has remained in effect throughout the criminal proceeding. Natera has ten days after the publication and notification of the judgement to appeal.


The case arose in 2013 when Correo del Caroní published an exposé on an extortion case involving a colonel from the Military Counterintelligence Bureau and senior management of the Venezuelan Corporation Guayana-Ferrominera Orinoco and its contractors. Following an investigation, the newspaper reported that the intelligence officer was extorting the directors and contractors of the state-run iron mining company in exchange for not revealing their participation in corrupt acts. As a result, according to the information available, the military officer was arrested; the chairman of the state-owned iron company and three of its managers were removed from their positions, arrested, and indicted, and one private contractor was arrested and indicted for the offenses of fraudulent embezzlement of public funds, collusion of a government official with a contractor, and criminal conspiracy. The defendant contractor brought a criminal complaint against Natera for defamation [injurias y difamación].


The case law of the Inter-American System has repeatedly recognized that freedom of expression grants—to both the directors of media outlets and the journalists that work for them—the right to investigate and disseminate information in the public interest. In a democratic society, the press has the right to report freely on the government’s activities and matters of public interest, and the public has the correlative right to be informed of such matters.


Based on the American Convention on Human Rights, the IACHR established more than a decade ago that using criminal law to penalize expressions about matters of public interest and public servants is disproportionate and therefore violates the right to freedom of expression.  


Principle 10 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR states that "The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official, a public person or a private person who has voluntarily become involved in matters of public interest. In addition, in these cases, it must be proven that in disseminating the news, the social communicator had the specific intent to inflict harm, was fully aware that false news was disseminated, or acted with gross negligence in efforts to determine the truth or falsity of such news."


Accordingly, the Commission calls upon the State of  Venezuela to adhere to the strictest international standards on freedom of expression so as to ensure the right of journalists and media outlets to practice journalism without improper interventions, and the right of society as a whole to be informed.  


The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to stimulate hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.