(Mary Aviles) Over 20 members of three Venezuelan media groups, El Nacional and Tal Cual, as well as news site La Patilla, are now prohibited from leaving the country. Caracas judge María Eugenia Núñez ordered the restriction on the opposition media figures, who are “accused of ‘continuing aggravated defamation’”, according to broadcaster NTN24.
The court order was requested on April 28 by the National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, seen as one of president Nicolás Maduro’s closest allies in government and member of the ruling PSUV party. It was stated that these media organizations had affected the government’s reputation by featuring “unscrupulous” publications from ABC, a Spanish daily newspaper.
The reports published in January alleged that Cabello was connected to drug trafficking in Venezuela.
As a result, Cabello sued for defamation everyone of importance at newspapers El Nacional, La Patilla and Tal Cual; as well as 22 members of the respective boards, including Miguel Henrique Otero, editor-in-chief of El Nacional, Teodoro Petkoff, from Tal Cual, and Alberto Ravell from La Patilla.
Alberto Ravell and Miguel Henrique Otero found out about the court rulling while travelling outside the country. They declared, respectively, that they will return to Venezuela in a few days to face the charges, and that their editorial lines will not change.
Despite what it seems like a violation of freedom of speech, even international treaties exempt such reproductions of news items from legal liability, except for the source.
Teodoro Petkoff, director of TalCual, and one of Venezuela’s most outspoken government critics, has already been banned from leaving the country because of another defamation lawsuit filed by Cabello last year. Petkoff recently received a prestigious journalism award in Spain, but was unable to collect it in person. The award was instead received on his behalf by former Spanish president Felipe Gonzalez, who spoke about attacks to freedom against expression in Venezuela.
According to Venezuelan law, the Court needs to notify each of the defendants, something that has yet to be done. Also, under no circumstance can a judge rule this prohibition without having talked to them first.
This defamation case had a very timely consideration and resolution, something noticeable in a country where the average prisoner has not seen a Judge in the first few months after its detention, or has spent around two years in prison without sentence, something analyzed in the blog The Devil’s Excrement.