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Reporters attacked, harassed by officials in 2002 still seeking justice as case proceeds in regional court

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 6 August 2008 ARTICLE 19 press release:

Inter-American Court of Human Rights: ARTICLE 19 Submission on Attacks on Journalists

ARTICLE 19 has provided an expert statement in the case of Luisiana Rios and Others v. The Republic of Venezuela, currently being heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Expert Statement, signed by Toby Mendel, Senior Director of Law, argues that Venezuela violated the petitioners' right to freedom of expression, when its officials attacked and/or harassed them, and when President Chavez incited others to attack them or failed to protect them against attacks by private individuals.

On 23 July 2002, Luisiana Rios and a number of other media workers employed by the Radio Caracas Television Network (RCTV) filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming that Venezuela had violated their rights, including their right to freedom of expression. The petition listed numerous attacks by officials and private individuals; a number of official failures to protect them; statements by President Chavez harshly attacking them, including accusing the petitioners of "poisoning" people's minds and of broadcasting terrorist propaganda; and various acts of official interference with their broadcasting, including requiring them to broadcast statements by government officials and getting the station entirely off the air at one point.

On 26 October 2006, the Commission held Venezuela to be in violation of its obligation to protect the petitioners' right to freedom of expression. Following a rejection of the Commission's report by Venezuela, the case was submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on 8 April 2007. The Commission specifically requested that Mendel present expert testimony to the Court on international standards relevant to the case.

The expert statement argues that the Venezuelan government bore official responsibility when its officials attacked the petitioners, as well as when official organs, including the broadcast regulator, CONATEL, either interfered directly with broadcasts or engaged in politically motivated inquiries into broadcasts. More important, the statement argues that President Chavez's statements constituted incitement of others to attack the petitioners. Finally, the statement argues that Venezuela clearly failed to discharge its obligation to protect the petitioners against the ongoing attacks against them, which were politically motivated and sought to limit their criticism of the government. Significantly, no one has yet been prosecuted for any of the attacks.

The full Expert Statement is available at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/cases/luisiana-r-os-and-others-versus-the-republic-of-venezuela.pdf

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

Updates the case of Ríos and others: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/17429

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