Rights group tells Venezuela to end censorship on Chávez

A human rights group says Venezuela should stop the censorship and intimidation of media that challenge the government’s line on President Hugo Chávez’s health and inauguration. Chávez has not been seen in public or heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba Dec. 11.

Human Rights Watch says CONATEL – the government-controlled telecommunications agency – ordered television station Globovision on Jan. 9 to stop airing four spots and similar transmissions criticizing the government’s position about whether a presidential inauguration could take place on Jan. 10, the date stipulated in the Constitution, without the president’s presence in Venezuela.

Human Rights Watch says CONATEL justified its move against Globovision by citing Venezuelan broadcasting law prohibiting the transmission of material that “foment anxiety in the population or threaten public order.”

The rights groups says CONATEL has opened an investigation into the Globovision spots that could result in sanctions. The group says Globovision is the only remaining television station that is consistently critical of the president’s policies.

Human Rights Watch said Globovision is already facing six other investigations and has received one sanction that carried a heavy fine. Another fine could result in the suspension of Globovision’s transmission or the revocation of its license, Human rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch said the national intelligence police searched the home of Federico Medina Ravell Jan. 6. The rights group said the businessman has been repeatedly denounced on state television as the suspected author of Tweets questioning information the government has provided on President Chávez’s health.

Medina, who was not home during the search, said intelligence agents detained his wife and children for several hours and took two computers from his home.

The attorney general’s office said Medina is under investigation for “instigating terrorism in social networks.”

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Human Rights Watch Americas director, said “it would be outrageous if a blogger was prosecuted on terrorism charges for questioning official information about the president’s health.”

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