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Authorities drag heels in investigation of two burglaries at offices of free speech NGO

(RSF/IFEX) - 2 December 2011 - The Venezuelan organization Espacio Público, which defends free speech, has suffered two successive break-ins at its offices, on 16 and 26 November 2011. On the second occasion, video recordings that were evidence of the first burglary were stolen. Computer equipment donated in response to an appeal by the NGO after the first robbery was also taken.

Reporters Without Borders, while remaining cautious about a possible motive for these crimes, is surprised at the slow progress of the investigation. We hope that this reluctance owes nothing to the government's expressed hostility towards Espacio Público in the current highly polarized atmosphere.

Espacio Público is regularly branded in official propaganda as "a counter-revolutionary agency acting on behalf of a foreign power" - by implication the United States - because of the source of some of its funding. The organization was the direct target of a new law on international cooperation which is supposed to "protect national sovereignty and self-determination" and which was rushed through parliament with other controversial bills on 22 December 2010. The legislation means Venezuelan NGOs are banned from accepting donations from abroad. Around that time, Carlos Correa, head of Espacio Público, was assaulted on the premises of the National Assembly. No charges were brought as a result of the attack.

"A lawyer from our team will contact the Public Prosecutor's Office to find out if an investigator has been assigned to each of these complaints," Correa told Reporters Without Borders after the second break-in, when the authorities failed to conduct a proper investigation for clues, unlike on the first occasion. "No one has contacted us to offer support or any form of protection." He did not rule out a possible political motive.

Reporters Without Borders declared: "Since no more can be said on this latest case, we nevertheless demand that the legal system show evidence of the fairness and impartiality required to investigate the matter. No ideological criteria or suspicion directed at Espacio Público should get in the way of the search for the truth.

"Aware of the critical, but serious and well-argued, work carried out by the organization, we hope that, in these circumstances, a halt will be called to the outrageous allegations made against it.

"This hope also applies to the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), which is based in Peru but has a permanent office in Caracas and has been the target of similar propaganda."

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