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Venezuela17 May 2006

Court dismisses “insult” prosecution against Chávez critic

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the decision by a Caracas court yesterday to dismiss a prosecution against journalist Napoleón Bravo, an outspoken critic of President Hugo Chávez’s government, on charges of insulting Venezuela’s supreme court in September 2004 in a programme he used to present on Venevisión TV.

Bravo (who now works for Unión Radio) called the supreme court a “whorehouse” and accused it of being under political control for failing to take any action in a case of assault.

The attorney-general’s office initiated the prosecution against Bravo on 8 February of this year, six days after he was banned from leaving the country and ordered to report regularly to a judge. A criminal code reform adopted in March 2005 had meanwhile increased penalties for press offences, especially for insulting or defaming public figures in connection with their work. As a result, Bravo faced up to 15 months in prison.

At yesterday’s hearing, Bravo’s lawyer, Alberto Arteaga, got the court to recognise that Bravo could not be prosecuted under a law protecting individual public figures because he criticised the supreme court as a whole not any of its members, and that if any of its members had felt targeted, the complaint should have been brought by that person instead of the supreme court as a whole. The attorney-general’s office could appeal against the ruling.

10.02.06 - Journalist facing “insult” charge as fears mount over draconian new law

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern after the state prosecutor’s office laid a charge of ”insult” against Napoleón Bravo of Venevisión TV on 8 February 2006, since it would be the first to be tried under draconian criminal law reform.

The organisation said it feared damage to press freedom, as the law, promulgated on 16 March 2005, steps up sanctions for press offences.

Napoléon Bravo - real name José Ovidio Rodríguez Cuesta - is accused of having denigrated the superior court, the highest in the land, on his programme “24 Horas” on 1st September 2004.

Bravo also roundly denounced the entire Venezuelan judicial system, which he alleged was under political control. The national prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz charged him with “insult” and sent his case to a judge in the lower court.

“With the Napoleón Bravo precedent, the application of the criminal code reform will seriously compromise the future of press freedom in Venezuela, since this law is so harsh towards the media,” said the press freedom organisation.

“Moreover the journalist is likely to be sentenced on matters dating back to before the law came into force, trampling on the fundamental principle of non-retroactivity,” it added.

Bravo, who has been a constant thorn in the side of the government of Hugo Chávez, faces 15 months in prison.

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