1. On December 9, 2004 , the National Assembly approved by
simple majority (83 out of 165 votes) the second review of the
on the Partial Reform of the Venezuelan Penal Code. On March
16, 2005 , following the incorporation of a number of modifications
suggested by the President of the Republic, this bill became
reforms to the Penal Code have caused serious concern within
several sectors of Venezuelan society, due to the effect they
have on the Venezuelan prison system and to the classification
as crime of new activities viewed as contempt. In the reformed
Penal Code all opinions, expressions of dissent or manifestations,
whether expressed in public or in private, against any public
official, can be viewed as an offense and can thus be punishable
with 6 to 30 months in prison.
3. The new Penal Code includes articles that sanction offences such as: the
use of language deemed to be insulting to the President of the
Republic (Article 147), the Vice-President, the Justices of
the Supreme Court, and members of several Public Powers, Ministers,
Congressmen or the Military High Command (Article 148), these
are punishable with 6 to 30 months in prison; instigation to
infringe the law (Article 283) or defy it (Article 285), punishable
with 3 to 6 years in prison; causing panic by divulging information
through a media outlet (Article 297), punishable with 2 to 5
years in prison and blocking public roads (Article 357), 4 to
8 years in prison. These newly classified crimes, together with
the serious penalty they entail, limit "democratic" life and
constrain the activities of reporters, whose work is further
limited by the new Law
of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.
to experts, the new Penal Code represents an attempt at
classifying political dissidence as a "crime" and impede the
types of public demonstrations that have taken place in Venezuela
during the last two years, as penal law is used as a weapon
to intimidate the opposition and the so-called "contempt crimes"
are punished with harsher sentences. One of the best-know recent
cases is that of General
Francisco Usón, who was accused of contempt of the
Armed Forces and sentenced to a six years jail term for expressing
an opinion on television regarding the use of a flame thrower
in an incident in which a number of soldiers lost their lives.
to a report by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission contempt
laws are incompatible with the American Human Rights Convention.
The Commission declared void the norms regarding contempt laws
and ever since 1994 has been urging the OAS Member States to
adapt their legislations to international human rights obligations.
6. When the Supreme Court of Justice received a petition to void the Penal
Code norms that classify as crime language deemed to be insulting
to public officials and institutions, its Constitutional
Chamber issued Sentence No.1942 reaffirming the classification
as crime of such offenses and established the possibility of
"previous judicial censorship". This sentence includes arguments,
expressions and decisions that contravene the Inter-American
Human Rights Commission's doctrine, jurisprudence issued by
the Inter-American Human Rights Court, as well as the November
22, 1969 American Human Rights Convention of San Jose, Costa
Rica, which became mandatory in Venezuela when the corresponding
approval law was published in the Official Gazette No. 31.256
of June 14, 1977 .
7 . International organizations such as the
Inter-American Press Association (SIP) and Human
Rights Watch have publicly expressed their concern regarding
the approval of the new Penal Code and the effects it will have
on the rights and freedom of expression of the Venezuelan people.
For example, José Miguel Vivanco, of Human Rights Watch,
said literally that " Venezuela has mocked the international
human rights principles that protect freedom of expression".