Venezuela: IAPA again denounces use of libel laws to punish journalists

IAPA condemned a libel lawsuit filed against four journalists of the investigative portal

MIAMI, Florida (February 6, 2018)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today condemned a libel lawsuit filed against four journalists of the Venezuelan investigative portal and denounced intimidation in that country through use of libel laws and legal proceedings to go after critical and independent opinion.

Editors Alfredo Meza, Ewald Scharfrenberg and Joseph Poliszuk and reporter Roberto Deniz of left the country after being sued by Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who through press investigations they linked to alleged cases of corruption. The journalists had received threats and their personal information was published on social media.

IAPA President Gustavo Mohme, editor of the Peruvian newspaper La República, declared that in the case of Venezuela "we continue denouncing the use of libel laws and the subsequent legal actions as one of the favorite mechanisms of the government, officials, state bodies and those close to put a brake on the dissemination of critical information and bring about self-censorship."

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Roberto Rock, of the Mexican news portal La Silla Rota, added, "We are aware of the harassment that journalists and media in Venezuela are undergoing and it does not surprise us that in the face of alleged offenses committed and the little possibility of fair and independent legal proceedings the colleagues have made the difficult decision to leave the country." in April and September last year published two reports bylined by Deniz in Spanish and translatable as "Businessmen questioned in Ecuador and United States sell food to the Venezuelan government" and "From Veracruz to La Guaira: A journey that brings together Nicolás Maduro with Piedad Córdoba" which link Saab to the firm Group Grand Limited and the sale to the Nicolás Maduro government of foodstuffs at subsidized prices to be distributed in poor neighborhoods.

According to the investigation the government benefitted the company with a multi-million-dollar contract to acquire supplies of subsidized foods. The four journalists were sued by Saab for the alleged offense of aggravated "defamation" and "libel," which carries punishment of one to six years in prison.

Saab also sued in 2017 journalist Gerardo Reyes of the Univisión television network based in Miami, Florida, for investigating its businesses.

The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida.