Journalist convicted of criminal defamation

New York, May 5, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the criminal defamation conviction of Venezuelan journalist Henry Crespo, who was handed an 18-month suspended jail term after reporting on government corruption. Crespo, a reporter for the Caracas-based weekly Las Verdades de Miguel, was sentenced by the Caracas Eighteenth Tribunal on Wednesday.

The suit was brought in January 2005 by the governor of the state of Guárico, Eduardo Manuitt. Crespo told CPJ the charges followed two articles that month which denounced government corruption and human rights violations in Guárico. Crespo said he would appeal.

Miguel Salazar, editor and columnist with Las Verdades de Miguel, was also charged with criminal defamation by Manuitt over a column that alleged that the governor had hired gunmen to murder him. José López, director of Las Verdades de Miguel, told CPJ that Manuitt had publicly denied all involvement in the plot to murder Salazar at the journalist’s trial last month. Salazar’s trial began on April 19, and a verdict is expected soon, the editor told CPJ.

“We condemn the conviction of journalist Henry Crespo,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “For a Venezuelan public official to criminally prosecute a journalist for criticizing his conduct in office is a serious abuse of power that sends a chilling message to all Venezuelan journalists.”

Laws that criminalize speech that does not incite violence are incompatible with the right to free expression as established under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which Venezuela has ratified.