Freedom of Expression

Press release R19/22

The Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses its concern regarding stigmatizing statements, media closures and prosecution of journalists in Venezuela

28 January 2022

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 regarding stigmatizing statements, the closure of independent media outlets and judicial proceedings against journalists in Venezuela who investigate, report, and denounce matters of public interest. In this regard, the SRFOE calls on the State to cease threats and arbitrary restrictions to freedom of expression and urges the authorities to maintain a discourse favorable to public deliberation.

In January 2022, through state media, a pro-government congressman" exhibited posters of journalists, pointing them out as "thieves" and calling for their search under that classification and their criminalization. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression rejects this type of stigmatizing remarks, which accentuate hostility against the press. For the Rapporteur’s Office, the high position of the person who has pronounced these statements and their reiterated nature imply an omission on the part of the authorities in their duty to prevent acts of violence against the press.  

Among other facts that concern the Rapporteur’s Office in 2021, agents of the Directorate Against Organized Crime of the National Police allegedly raided the headquarters of the National College of Journalists, Cumaná, Sucre, and prohibited access to authorities and members of the association. The occupation would have occurred so that the space would be ceded to the operation of this security body. In addition to the above, between October 2021 and January 2022, the Office of the Rapporteur recorded the removal from the air of at least four radio stations by order of the National Telecommunications Commission, with the alleged justification of non-compliance with the administrative requirements for radio broadcasting or use of radio space.

Similarly, the Office has followed with particular concern the reports on the search and arrest warrants issued against journalist Roberto Deniz, who currently resides in Colombia and whose family members have been beneficiaries of precautionary measures from the Commission since February 2020. According to information received, on October 12, 2021, the journalist was reportedly informed about the opening of a new criminal proceeding for the crime of incitement to hatred, allegedly linked to his journalistic work. Three days later, agents of the Scientific, Criminal and Criminalistic Investigations Corps raided his parents' residence in Caracas.

SRFOE recalls that freedom of expression plays a central role in democratic societies, as it facilitates and makes possible the control and accountability of public authorities by the citizens. Likewise, it highlights that, in different cases regarding Venezuela, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has reiterated that persons exercising public functions have a position of guarantor of fundamental rights. Consequently, their statements cannot "constitute forms of direct or indirect interference or harmful pressure on the rights of those who seek to contribute to public deliberation through the expression and dissemination of their thoughts".

In this context, the Office reiterates the call of the last Joint Declaration of experts on freedom of expression for public leaders to refrain from intentionally making false statements that attack the integrity of media workers. They also reiterate that the vague criminal offenses contained in the so-called Anti-Hate Law have the potential to restrict public expressions that are protected by international law.

In view of the foregoing considerations, the Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the State of Venezuela to cease criminalization, stigmatizing statements and censorship measures against journalists and the media, especially against those who speak out critically against the government or denounce acts of corruption.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.