New York, March 6, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the arrest today on fraud charges of a Venezuelan journalist known for his criticism of state authorities. Gustavo Azócar Alcalá was arrested in the western state of Táchira minutes after finishing a daily show he hosts on the San Cristóbal-based TV station Televisora del Táchira, a station spokesperson told CPJ. Azócar is also the Táchira correspondent for the Caracas-based daily El Universal.
The state attorney general’s office said that the arrest warrant was issued based on Azócar’s failure to appear before a local court on charges of fraud filed in 2000. The journalist, who was then working for private radio station Radio Noticias 1060, was accused of irregularities in the assignment of advertising in a contract signed with the state lottery agency, the local press said.
Táchira state attorney general Ana Casanova filed the complaint against Azócar when she was working as a legal adviser to the lottery, El Universal reported. The Táchira state police told CPJ that the arrest had nothing to do with Azócar’s journalistic work.
However, Jesús Vivas Terán, Azócar’s lawyer, told CPJ the local government was using the fraud allegations to silence his client, who has been critical of local authorities in general, and of Governor Ronald Blanco La Cruz in particular.
“They are using a bogus argument with the intention of taking him off the air,” said Azócar’s lawyer.
As he was being arrested, Azócar told the Caracas-based television station Globovisión, that Governor Blanco had ordered his arrest in retaliation for his work.
“A well respected journalist has made a serious allegation that his arrest is politically motivated,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Venezuelan authorities must conduct a full and prompt investigation into this allegation and meanwhile free Gustavo Azócar Alcalá.”