Reporters Without Borders has condemned as an apparent “political punishment”, a fine imposed by a juvenile court against opposition daily Tal Cual for publishing a comic letter.
Tal Cual carried an open letter on 25 November 2005, addressed to Rosinés, aged nine, the youngest daughter of President Hugo Chávez in which the writer, comedian Laureano Márquez, asked her to get her father to listen to reason so that he would more tolerant of the opposition.
Judge Holanda Dam at the juvenile court of Lara state, west of Caracas, ruled on 13 February 2007 that the article damaged “the honour, reputation, image, and private life of Rosinés Chávez Rodríguez”, in violation of Article 65 of the Organic Law for the Protection of the Child and Adolescent (Lopna). The daily was fined 18,600 dollars (about 14,000 euros). The fine against the comedian has not yet fixed.
Laureano Márquez defended himself by stressing that the letter was an exercise in comic style and that President Hugo Chávez had himself publicly said - including during his weekly TV programme “Alo Presidente” - that he consulted his daughter on some decisions. It was on this basis that the head of state reportedly altered the coat of arms on the national flag.
“Laureano Márquez's open letter which appeared in Tal Cual did not contain any insulting or offensive remarks about the daughter of President Hugo Chávez,” said Reporters Without Borders. “Nothing in the article justifies the conviction, moreover very delayed, against Tal Cual. There was no offence,” it added.
The worldwide press freedom organisation added that it was unacceptable that the daily's decision to appeal had not brought a suspension of the fine. “It gives us every reason to fear that this sanction is just political score-settling,” it said.
Editor of Tal Cual, Javier Conde, told Reporters Without Borders that the paper could not pay the fine and it has appealed for contributions. It has only one week to pay, failing which it will be increased by 12%. Since the fact it is appealing will not get the fine temporarily lifted, the daily will have to pay up and will only be refunded if it wins its appeal before a higher court.
Tal Cual was founded in 2000 and is managed by Teodoro Petkoff. It is in clear opposition to the Chávez government. Petkoff was personally involved in the electoral campaign team of Manuel Rosales, an opponent of Chávez at the 3 December 2006 presidential poll. The paper said it believed the legal decision to amount to a “political reprisal”.