Freedom of Expression

Press Release R16/17

Office of the Special Rapporteur Condemns Censorship and Intimidation of International Media and Journalists in Venezuela


February 17, 2016.


Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression condemns the recent actions and decisions of the officials, bodies, and security apparatus of the State of Venezuela aimed at censoring the foreign press and media outlets that are investigating matters of public interest in Venezuelan territory or disseminating information about the government’s administration. The Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses its alarm over the repetition and impact of these measures on freedom of expression and democratic order in Venezuela.


On Wednesday, February 15, the United States news channel CNN en Español was suspended and its signal was pulled throughout Venezuela. According to a statement released by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), a punitive administrative proceeding was opened that included the implementation of precautionary measures. Conatel added that the case had been opened because the content broadcast by the channel undermines Venezuela’s "peace and democratic stability," by "defaming and distorting the truth." On February 12, in a public address, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro reportedly warned the international channel that it would be expelled from Venezuela for "manipulating" information, in reference to a report aired by the channel about public complaints made by a young women to President Maduro over the conditions of her school and the lack of food for students.  CNN also aired a report on the alleged sale of passports by officials at the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq to persons with alleged ties to terrorism.


Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez justified taking the channel off the air, alleging a media campaign of war propaganda against Venezuela based on the report on the sale of passports, which she linked to a speech delivered by Senator Marco Rubio to the US Congress. 


In a statement, CNN defended the accuracy of the report, maintaining that the investigation took more than a year and that the documents presented have not been refuted by the State, even though Venezuelan authorities were contacted to provide their side of the story.


On February 11, Brazilian journalists Leandro Stoliar and Gilzon Souza de Oliveira and members of the anti-corruption organization Transparencia Venezuela, Jesús Urbina and María José Túa, were detained by agents from the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) while taking photographs and videos of the Nigale Bridge in the city of Maracaibo, as part of the journalists’ investigations into the Odebrecht scandal. The bridge had reportedly been an initiative of former President Hugo Chávez, undertaken with the Brazilian firm Odebrecht. To this day it remains unfinished. 


According to the information available, the journalists’ computers, cameras, and cell phones were confiscated by the authorities. The activists were reportedly released that night; however, the Brazilian journalists reportedly remained in custody for nearly 36 hours and were forced to leave Venezuela on February 12. The journalists were reportedly interrogated and intimidated by members of SEBIN while they were detained.


In January, senior government officials and Conatel criticized the broadcast of the television series "El Comandante," a foreign production inspired by the life of former President Hugo Chávez and aired on international channels. Under government pressure, the cable providers decided not to air the series in Venezuela. During those days, Conatel and Congressman Diosdado Cabello led a social media campaign with the hashtags #AquínosehablamaldeChávez ["here we do not speak ill of Chávez"] and #NuestroChavezdeverdad ["our real Chávez"] in order to promote the memory of the deceased former President. Although it is not clear what penalty would be imposed against broadcasters or cable providers who air the series, it has not been shown in Venezuelan territory.


Article 13 of the American Convention establishes that all persons are entitled to freedom of expression, and specifies that this right includes, "freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice."


Principle 5 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states that, "Prior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression, opinion or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law. Restrictions to the free circulation of ideas and opinions, as well as the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression." 


The Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterates the importance of "creating a climate of respect and tolerance for all ideas and opinions." The Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that diversity, pluralism, and respect for the dissemination of all ideas and opinions are essential conditions in any democratic society. Therefore, the authorities must work resolutely to help build a climate of tolerance and respect in which everyone can express his or her thoughts and opinions without fear of being attacked, punished, or stigmatized for doing so. 


The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls upon the State of Venezuela to adhere to the strictest international standards on freedom of expression in order to guarantee that journalists and media outlets are fully able to exercise the right to freedom of expression without undue interference. Accordingly, it should avoid the use of direct or indirect measures to restrict the circulation of critical opinions or grievances against government authorities.


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