Critical Venezuelan journalist arrested on contempt of court

Venezuelan Judge Fanny Yasmina Becerra ordered the arrest of journalist Gustavo Azócar on July 29, 2009, stating that he violated the conditions of his 2006 parole on charges of illegal acquisition of wealth and fraud by publicly commenting on his case. Táchira state authorities took Azócar into custody at 10:30 p.m., and drove him to a local prison, according to local news reports.

In March 2006, the Táchira state prosecutor accused Azócar, host of a news and political commentary show on local TV station Televisora del Táchira and correspondent for the national daily El Universal in the western city of San Cristóbal, of irregularities in the assignment of advertising in a contract signed with the state lottery in 2000 while Azócar was working for Radio Noticias 1060, a private radio station. Azócar was released on parole on March 22, 2006. The conditions of his release allowed the journalist to continue to work but forbid him from leaving the country or publicly speaking about the legal process.

According to Venezuelan media reports, Judge Becerra claimed Azócar had recently blogged about the case. Colleagues told CPJ the claim seemed unusual as Azócar had been extremely careful about making public comments on the charges against him. CPJ was unable to find the alleged blog post.

Azócar, who is also politically active in Venezuela’s opposition movement and has previously run for office, is openly critical of the local and national governments.