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Journalists imprisoned in their own homes and assaulted

Venezuelan journalists are facing an array of attacks - Molotov cocktails, President Hugo Chávez's verbal assaults on outspoken media, house arrest and physical assault - simply for doing their jobs.

A court in Valencia sentenced columnist Francisco Pérez to three years and nine months under house arrest in a ruling on a libel case on 11 June, report the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The suit accused Pérez of insulting a public official in the daily "El Carabobeño" after the journalist wrote an article saying the mayor had given key positions in city hall to members of his family. The court also ordered Pérez to pay 15,500 Euros in damages and banned him from working during his sentence. The journalist, who has been writing a column for 30 years, said the court's ruling was "absurd."

The government is increasingly reacting to any perspective that does not conform to its own, says RSF. President Chávez used his Sunday programme on 6 June to request an investigation into Noticiero Digital, a news and opinion portal, because of an opinion piece that one of its columnists posted on 2 June. The piece talked of moves by "retired military officers and patriots" with a view to engineering a "civil-military transition" at the head of the government, possibly in 2011.

Noticiero Digital stated that the site does not censor its columnists, and that its goal is to permit the free flow of news and opinion. The prosecutor-general's office has initiated proceedings against the news website on suspicion of "attacking constitutional order" and "supporting a coup d'état".

"The president's remonstrations against outspoken media often go no further than threats, but it is nonetheless disturbing to see the judicial system move into action solely because the president has requested it," RSF said. "Such a presidential fiat directly violates the principles of the separation of powers and judicial independence."

Also on 11 June, an arrest warrant was issued for Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovisión, on usury and conspiracy charges, report CPJ and other IFEX members. Zuloaga is also facing separate charges of insulting the president in comments made last March.

On 7 June, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the offices of the Cadena Capriles media outlet in Caracas, which owns newspapers, magazines and news websites, reports the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). Just a few days earlier a company driver had been abducted and beaten up. And in northern Venezuela, supporters of Venezuela's United Socialist Party (PSUV) attacked journalist Andrea Rocha and camera operator Víctor Davalí on 28 May, says the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS).

According to the National Journalists Guild of Venezuela, between January and November 2009 there were "245 cases of attacks and threats, among other violations against journalists, news media and their employees."

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