Marianne Diaz, “Venezuela: Algunas notas sobre el caso de Noticiero Digital” [Venezuela: Some Notes on the Noticiero Digital Case], Global Voices, April 19, 2010, http://es.globalvoicesonline.org/2010/04/19/venezuela-algunas-notas-sobre-el-caso-denoticiero-digital/ (in Spanish).
“ND le responde al ex columnista Roberto Carlo Olivares” [ND Responds to Former Columnist Roberto Carlo Olivares], Noticiero Digital, June 23, 2010, http://www.noticierodigital.com/2010/06/nd-le-responde-al-ex-columnista-roberto-carloolivares/ (in Spanish).
VENEZUELA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Although there are no specific regulations for conducting electoral campaigns using digital media, the National Electoral Council established some guidelines with Conatel ahead of the September 2010 parliamentary polls.43 Twitter accounts of candidates, parties, and media outlets must comply with the general election rules, and candidates can only send three mass text messages per week per operator.
The Venezuelan authorities have taken measures to proactively influence online discussion, including via the pro-Chvez website www.aporrea.org. In January 2010, on a national television channel, Chvez encouraged members of his party to use Twitter to counteract the opposition. Shortly thereafter, in April 2010, Chavez opened his own Twitter account and by year’s end had the largest number of followers in the country at approximately one million.44 There are also some allegations that the government has attempted to influence online news coverage through the manipulation of advertising.
Online media outlets critical of the government do not receive advertising revenue from state agencies and some private advertisers have been pressured to withdraw their funding from outlets like Noticiero Digital and Cdigo Venezuela.
There are currently close to 130,000 Venezuelan websites, and social media have emerged as an important avenue for circulating information and expressing opinions at a time when independent television and radio stations have come under increased pressure.
The country has the third-largest number of Facebook users in Latin America (about million by the end of 2010)45 and the largest number of Spanish-language Twitter users.There are about 700,000 Venezuelan Twitter users, a figure that has grown by 1,percent in the last year, due in part to the president’s recent instructions to his supporters to counteract his opponents on the platform.In addition to street demonstrations, which have been orchestrated through intensive use of SMS and BlackBerry Messenger,48 activists have mounted notable campaigns on Twitter. The first of these, called #internetlujo, was launched in March 2009 to strengthen the effects of Decree 825, which declares access to the internet to be a political priority for “CNE se reunir con Conatel el prximo martes para discutir la normativa de propaganda electoral” [Conatel and CNE will meet next Tuesday to discuss the rules of electoral propaganda], Venezolana de Televisin (VTV), August 22, 2010, http://www.vtv.gov.ve/noticias-nacionales/42430 (in Spanish).
“Twitteros m populares en Venezuela” [Most Popular Twitters in Venezuela], Twitter-Venezuela, http://www.twittervenezuela.com/ (in Spanish), accessed March 9, 2011.
“Venezuela Facebook Statistics,” Socialbakers, http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/venezuela, accessed March 9, 2011.
ComScore, “Indonesia, Brazil and Venezuela Lead Global Surge in Twitter Usage,” press release, August 11, 2010, http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2010/8/Indonesia_Brazil_and_Venezuela_Lead_Global_Surge_in_ Twitter_Usage.
“Venezuela, poltica 2.0,” BBC, January 29, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/america_latina/2010/01/100128_2205_venezuela_marchas_twitter_internet_jrg.shtml (in Spanish).
Casto Ocando, “El Blackberry cambia batalla poltica en Venezuela” [Blackberry Changes Political Battle in Venezuela], El Nuevo Herald, September 10, 2009, http://www.elnuevoherald.com/2009/10/09/561909_p2/el-blackberry-cambia-batalla-politica.html (in Spanish).
VENEZUELA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net the development of the country. The campaign was initiated primarily by professors and researchers from public universities to protest a subsequent presidential decree that characterized the public sector’s use of the internet as a luxury and on those grounds restricted state investment in ICTs. An active community of bloggers, Twitter users, and others joined the campaign.49 In July 2009, another Twitter-based campaign, #FreeMediaVe, was launched as a protest against the closure of 32 radio broadcasters by the government, and against a proposed Special Law Against Media Crimes, which was ultimately not submitted to the National Assembly for discussion.50 Twitter also played a considerable role in campaigning for the September 2010 parliamentary elections, but like all online media, including news sites and online broadcasters, its use is strongest among the younger, wealthier, and more urban segments of the population.VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS While freedoms of speech and the press are constitutionally guaranteed, various laws have been used to restrict media and online freedom. Several individuals have been prosecuted in recent years for statements made via the internet or Twitter, though none were imprisoned as of the end of 2010. The courts are subject to the influence of the executive branch, particularly with regards to politically important cases, and the Supreme Court of Justice has passed down at least 10 judgments since 2001 that have placed curbs on freedom of expression.52 The 2001 Special Law Against Information Crimes penalizes online activities involving privacy violations or pornography, but it has not been used to restrict online expression related to political or social matters.In December 2010, the National Assembly adopted a reform of the 2004 Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (Resorte) that extended it to online and electronic media.54 This lay the groundwork for censorship by websites and service providers of content transmitted by other users. Under the amended law, online media outlets are expected to establish mechanisms to restrict content that would violate the law, The campaign website is located at http://www.cecalc.ula.ve/internetprioritaria/, accessed August 18, 2010.
Article 3 of the measure indicated that national independent producers, journalists, newscasters, lecturers, artists, and “any other person who expresses himself through any mode of communication” would be subject to criminal liability. See Pedro Pablo Pealoza, “Todos los ‘delitos mediticos’ se castigarn con crcel” [All ‘Media Crimes’ Are Punishable by Imprisonment], El Universal, July 30, 2009, http://www.eluniversal.com/2009/07/30/pol_art_todos-los-delitos-m_1497998.shtml (in Spanish).
Maria Isabel Neman, “La participacin en las redes sociales y las elecciones: Los seguidores representan votos” [Participation in Social Networks and the Elections: Do Followers Represent Votes], Experiencias Locales de Apropiacin Technolgica (blog), October 21, 2010, http://apropiacion.blogspot.com/2010/10/la-participacion-en-las-redes-sociales.html#more (in Spanish).
Juan Francisco Alonso, “‘Jueces buscan limitar libre expresin’” [‘Judges Seek to Limit Free Expression’], El Universal, August 21, 2010, http://politica.eluniversal.com/2010/08/21/pol_art_jueces-buscan-limit_2012844.shtml (in Spanish).
The text of the law is available in Spanish at http://www.gobiernoenlinea.ve/docMgr/sharedfiles/LeyEspecialcontraDelitosInformaticos.pdf, accessed August 17, 2010.
The amended law is available in Spanish at http://www.scribd.com/doc/45291089/Proyecto-de-Ley-de-Responsabilidad-enRadio-Television-y-Medios-Electronicos, accessed December 19, 2010.
VENEZUELA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Websites found in violation may be fined up to 13,000 bolivars ($US 3,000) and service providers who do not respond to government inquiries risk high fines and temporary suspension of operations.55 Legislators also passed a law that deemed telecommunications networks and services to be of public rather than general interest, meaning they would be subject to greater state control.56 These changes were among more than a dozen laws passed in the final days of the outgoing National Assembly, which was set to be replaced by a newly elected chamber with a substantial opposition minority.57 The assembly also delegated its powers to the president for months, allowing him to legislate by decree in areas including telecommunications and information technology.58 When freedom of expression advocates demanded to participate in the lawmakers’ deliberations,59 they were harassed and assaulted by government supporters at the doors of the chamber.A 2005 reform of the penal code included significant restrictions on expression, especially in cases involving contempt or disrespect. Article 147 of the penal code stipulates that defamation of the president is punishable by 6 to 30 months in prison, while offenses against lower-ranking officials carry lighter punishments under Article 148.In addition, the penal code includes vague language criminalizing the dissemination of “false information.” Article 297-A states: “Every individual who through false information spread by any print media, radio, television, telephone, e-mail, or written pamphlet causes “CPJ Condemns Two Media Laws,” International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), December 22, 2010, http://www.ifex.org/venezuela/2010/12/22/two_reforms_approved/.
The amended law is available in Spanish at http://www.scribd.com/doc/45293016/Nueva-Ley-Organica-deTelecomunicaciones, accessed December 19, 2010.
Sara Carolina Daz, “En 15 das Asamblea aprob 16 leyes” [In 15 Days Assembly Approves 16 Laws], El Universal, December 19, 2010, http://politica.eluniversal.com/2010/12/19/pol_art_en-15-dias-asamblea_2141341.shtml (in Spanish).
“Texto de la Ley Habilitante entregada al la AN” [Text of the Enabling Act Submitted to the National Assembly], Panorama.com.ve, December 14, 2010, http://www.panorama.com.ve/14-12-2010/avances/0chavez-martesemergencia2.html (in Spanish).
“Periodistas y ONG solicitan audiencia a la AN para defender la libertad de expresin” [Journalists and NGOs Seek Hearing at the National Assembly to Defend Freedom of Expression], El Nacional, December 16, 2010, http://www.elnacional.com/www/site/p_contenido.phpq=nodo/172357/Naci%C3%B3n/Periodistas-y-ONG-solicitan-audiencia-a-la-ANpara-defender-la-libertad-de-expresi%C3%B3n (in Spanish); “Esperamos respuesta oportuna de AN a documento Por una internet de contenido libre” [We Expect a Timely Response from the National Assembly to Document ‘For an Internet of Free Content’], Todos en Red (blog), December 17, 2010, http://todosenred.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/esperamos-respuestaoportuna-de-an-a-documento-por-una-internet-de-contenido-libre/ (in Spanish).
Patty Fuentes Gimn, “Respuesta oficial” [Official Response], Tal Cual, December 17, 2010, http://www.talcualdigital.com/Avances/Viewer.aspxid=45795&secid=28 (in Spanish). 61 Every opinion or manifestation of dissent made in public or in private against a government employee can be considered an offense. The new penal code has been described as an attempt to criminalize political opposition. For more information, see Smate, “Respeto a la libertad de expresin: Limita el cdigo penal la libertad de expresin” [Respect for Freedom of Expression: Does the Penal Code Limit Freedom of Expression], http://infovenezuela.org/democracy/cap4_es_2.htm (in Spanish), accessed August 22, 2010.
Every opinion or manifestation of dissent made in public or in private against a government employee can be considered an offense. The new penal code has been described as an attempt to criminalize political opposition. For more information, see Smate, “Respeto a la libertad de expresin: Limita el cdigo penal la libertad de expresin” [Respect for Freedom of Expression: Does the Penal Code Limit Freedom of Expression], http://infovenezuela.org/democracy/cap4_es_2.htm (in Spanish), accessed August 22, 2010.
VENEZUELA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net collective panic or anxiety, will be punished with two to five years in prison.”62 Given that the internet is classified as a channel of mass distribution of information, some violations of the penal code (such as defamation or incitement of hatred or rebellion) may be considered more severe online than in other media forms.Over the past two years, at least five people have been charged or arbitrarily detained for online expression on politically relevant topics. In July 2010, police detained two people for alleged involvement in the spread via Twitter of false rumors aimed at destabilizing the national banking system. The incident came in the wake of the closure or nationalization of more than 10 banks during 2009. The suspects were charged with spreading false information under the General Law on Banks and Other Financial Institutions, reformed in 2009, which calls for prison sentences of 9 to 11 years. Strangely, one suspect, Luis Acosta Oxford, had barely 32 Twitter followers and had sent 201 messages at the time of his detention, and only one of the messages had referred to the banking situation.64 The other suspect, Carmen Cecilia Nares Castro, had been subscribed to Twitter for just two months and had only six followers. The authorities ultimately determined that the arrests had been a mistake, and Nares’s lawyer criticized the attorney general’s office for failing to conduct adequate investigations.Two months later, police arrested a 27-year-old employee of the state electric company, Jesus Majano, for allegedly sharing via Twitter offensive words and images that encouraged the assassination of President Chvez. After several hours of detention under Article 285 of the penal code, he was provisionally released pending additonal hearings.66 In November, Cristian Fuentes, a social communications student and regular user of the account @Caracasmetro, a tool created to monitor the subway system’s operation, was arrested while taking photographs in the subway. He reported that the police told him he Gaceta Oficial no. 5.763 Extraordinario, March 16, 2005, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/gaceta_ext/marzo/160305/160305-576301.html (in Spanish).