March 17, 2016 - Updated on March 21, 2016

Four-year jail term for newspaper editor who investigated corruption

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the four-year jail sentence that a court in the southeastern state of Bolívar has imposed on David Natera Febres, the editor of the independent Correo del Caroní newspaper, in connection with its coverage of alleged corruption involving a state-owned company.

In RSF’s view, this iniquitous sentence, passed on 11 March, is designed to gag investigative journalism and reinforce the climate of censorship in Venezuela.

As well as giving Natera a four-year jail term on a defamation charge, the court fined him more than 200,000 bolívares (20,000 dollars) and banned the newspaper from publishing any information about the case.

Natera and his newspaper were convicted in connection with their coverage in 2013 of a case of alleged corruption and extortion involving army officers and the Ferrominera Orinoco company, which mines iron ore. The newspaper’s reporting led to the arrest of several of the company’s managers, but they were later released.

We question the real motives of the court’s decision and suspect another attempt by the authorities to censor and intimidate the independent press,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk. “Venezuela’s independent media are the victims of institutional persecution. The authorities must respect the fundamental principle of a right to information.”

One of the few independent newspapers in Venezuela, the Correo del Caroní has been subjected to many different forms of harassment by the authorities in Bolívar state in recent years.

It has been denied state advertising, pressure has been put on private-sector companies not to place advertising with the newspaper, newsstand owners have been bribed not to sell it, and it has been threatened with seizure of its headquarters.

This defamation case is not the first of its kind in Venezuela. In May 2015, RSF issued a press release condemning a judge’s decision to ban 22 editors and executives of three independent media outlets from leaving the country when a suit was brought against them accusing them of “aggravated and continuing defamation.”

Journalists who cover corruption involving government officials or cases of violence by state agents are often the targets of harassment or physical violence, especially during elections.

Venezuela is ranked 137th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index.