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National Assembly approves constitutional reform allowing restrictions on access to information during states of emergency

(RSF/IFEX) - On 25 October 2007, the National Assembly approved, almost unanimously (160 in favour, 7 abstentions), a constitutional reform increasing the president's powers and enabling him to decree an unlimited state of emergency without needing the Supreme Court's approval (article 338).

The right to a fair trial and access to information will henceforth be among the constitutionally-guaranteed rights that can be suspended under a state of emergency (article 337). The amendments are to be put to a referendum on 2 December.

"As modified, article 337 is by itself a setback for basic freedoms in general and press freedom in particular," RSF said. "There is reason for even more concern about the use of this article in combination with the one empowering the president, on his sole authority, to proclaim an unlimited state of emergency."

The press freedom organisation added: "According to the judicial precedents set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to which Venezuela is bound as a member of the Organisation of American States, a state of emergency must not be indefinite. Furthermore, it must not be used as a convenient way of reducing press freedom in a country in which the media are already very polarised."

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