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Judge in Táchira issues order for journalist to be imprisoned; reporter in Caracas struck by a stone while interviewing political leaders

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 29 July 2009, Fanny Yasmina, a criminal court judge in Táchira, issued an order for journalist Gustavo Azócar to be imprisoned for having violated a condition that forbade him from publicly expressing his opinion about a legal case against him. The incident took place in the city of San Cristóbal, in the state of Táchira, western Venezuela.

At the end of the hearing, Azócar's lawyer, Pedro Rey, said that the journalist was transferred to a prison in Santa Ana, Táchira, together with common criminals, and that, in the process, efforts were made to evade the press.

The judge justified her decision saying that the journalist had published information and comments on his Web page ( http://www.gustavoazocar.com ) about the hearings that have been part of the legal process. This, according to her, violated the conditions under which he was allowed to remain free.

Rey said the judge's decision was excessive since the journalist has complied with all of the legal requirements demanded of him. According to Rey, Azócar has showed up for all of the hearings, he poses no flight risk and both the evidence and witness testimony have confirmed his innocence. He also added that what has been published on Azócar's Web page are not his opinions, but those of the Web page users.

Azócar has been accused of illegal profiteering, falsifying documents and committing fraud in relation to advertising segments involving Radio Noticias 1060 AM radio station, where he worked as the general coordinator, and the Televisora Regional del Táchira (TRT) television station, where he hosted the news programme. Azócar maintains that he has been accused of these crimes in order to silence him for the critical stance he has taken on his television programme, which is broadcast daily by TRT.

The condition that prohibited Azócar from providing information to the media about the case against him runs contrary to Venezuela's constitutional freedom of expression guarantees.

In a separate development, on 28 July, journalist Cecilia Caione, of the Unión Radio station and the daily "Últimas Noticias", was struck on the head by a stone while she, along with a group of other journalists, was conducting an interview with leaders of the opposition Justice First (Primero Justicia) political party. The incident took place at one of the entrances to the National Assembly building in Caracas.

The stone was thrown by an unidentified individual who, together with a group of about 15 other people, was shouting insults at the political leaders.

The journalist received medical treatment at the parliament building's clinic.

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