Tags: Chavez | TV | station | crackdown | media

Chavez Opposition Crackdown Mounting With Opponent Roundups

Friday, 26 March 2010 10:05 AM

CARACAS — Venezuelan police freed the head of opposition television network Globovision hours after he was arrested, as President Hugo Chavez' government came under scathing criticism for its political persecutions.

A Caracas court however ordered Guillermo Zuloaga not to leave the country because of charges against him, his lawyer Perla Jaimes said.

"It's a decision we will appeal," Jaimes said.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega said earlier she had issued an arrest warrant for Zuloaga because he "was about to leave the country trying to get himself out of a criminal case."

Zuloaga's arrest, allegedly for anti-Chavez comments he made recently, followed that of opposition leader and former Zulia governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz on Monday, also for comments authorities deemed an insult to Venezuela.

Zuloaga told his Globovision network that police had detained him at the airport in the northeastern city of Punto Fijo, where he said he was planning to leave the country with his family on vacation.

He said that he had not been informed of any arrest warrant against him.

"This is another abuse," Zuloaga told Globovision. "I have no intention of leaving Venezuela now nor any time soon."

Earlier in the week Venezuela's National Assembly asked Ortega to investigate recent statements Zuloaga made at a media conference in Aruba and to consider legal action.

According to the assembly, which is dominated by pro-Chavez legislators, Zuloaga lied about Venezuelan government activities, and was attempting to portray President Chavez as a criminal to tarnish his reputation.

Chavez has accused Globovision of "media terrorism."

The network in 2009 was forced to pay a 4.1 million dollar fine for failing to acknowledge it aired ads favoring an opposition strike in 2002.

The network claims that government action against it is politically motivated.

Zuloaga's arrest coincided with a damning report by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights denouncing Venezuela's persecution of political opponents, and accusing it of using the power of the state to attack its political enemies.

Public debate in Venezuela "is being increasingly reduced through the use of instruments such as the criminal justice system to silence critical or dissident expressions," said the commission, an independent rights body of the Washington-based Organization of American States.

"It is extremely troubling that those who make allegations or state opinions about the situation in the country are charged with such offenses as the instigation to commit a crime."

OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said after Zuloaga's arrest that he worried about "the national and international political repercussions of this situation."

The OAS chief also requested: "should (Zuloaga) be tried, that it be done with respect for the presumption of innocence and with all the guarantees offered to him by the law."

Former governor Alvarez Paz was arrested on charges of conspiracy, criminal incitement and making false statements, for recently commenting on television that Venezuela had become a drug-trafficking hub. The National Assembly also had him investigated.

His arrest ahead of September's legislative elections in Venezuela was condemned by the opposition, who deemed it "unconstitutional" and "a brazen manipulation of justice... (to) instill fear and self-censorship" among all Venezuelans.

The former governor's plight -- he faces from two to 16 years in prison if convicted -- also triggered concern and sharp rebuke from the United States.

"It is unfortunately the latest example of (the Chavez administration's) continuing assault on freedom of expression," a US State Department spokesman said.

The arrests of both opposition leaders was also criticized by Venezuelan politicians and media.

"The government is sending us a message that we must not have an opinion, that we should exercise self-censorship," opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era) said in a statement.

"The crime of opinion is fast becoming the (government's) way of putting people opposed to the (Chavez) regime in jail," said El Nacional chief editor Miguel Henrique Otero.

Independent body Human Rights Watch slammed the arrests as "a serious blow to freedom of expression" in the country.

"To prosecute someone for speech, which should be protected under any standard of democracy, is a dangerous precedent," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at the rights watchdog.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Friday, 26 March 2010 10:05 AM
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