Journalists stand in the newsroom of Venezuela's El Nacional newspaper after it published its last print edition in Caracas on December 14, 2018. CPJ called on Venezuelan authorities to drop their criminal investigation into two editors, three reporters, and an administrative employee of the El Nacional on January 27, 2023. (Reuters/Manaure Quintero)

Venezuelan authorities question 2 El Nacional employees, summon 3 others

Bogotá, January 27, 2023 — Venezuelan authorities must drop their criminal investigation into two editors, three reporters, and an administrative employee of the El Nacional news website and allow them to continue their work free of intimidation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On Wednesday, January 25, officers of Venezuela’s investigative police unit detained El Nacional news editor José Gregorio Meza and human resources manager Virginia Nuñez, according to news reports and Miguel Enrique Otero, the president and editor of El Nacional, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Officers brought them to the attorney general’s office in Caracas, where they were questioned about a recent article and released.

Authorities also sent citations to appear at the attorney general’s office to Otero and El Nacional reporters Carola Briceño, Hilda Lugo, and Ramón Hernández, all of whom are based outside of the country and do not plan to comply with the summonses, Otero said.

“Venezuelan authorities’ latest attempt to intimidate journalists at El Nacional by threatening them with criminal investigations is completely unacceptable,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “Authorities must drop their criminal investigations into the two editors, three reporters, and the human resources manager of the outlet, and allow them to practice journalism freely.”

The citation sent to Otero, dated January 17 and which CPJ reviewed, said he was to be formally charged but did not specify what crime he was alleged to have committed. Otero added that the other journalists were cited the same day.

Otero told CPJ that authorities have threatened Briceño and Hernández’s relatives in Venezuela in retaliation for their journalism.

Police questioned Meza and Nuñez about an article alleging that President Nicolás Maduro’s son, Nicolás Maduro Guerra, who is also a politician, was connected to two Venezuelans sanctioned in 2020 by the U.S. Treasury Department for their alleged involvement in illegal gold mining.

CPJ’s calls and text messages to the attorney general’s office and President Maduro’s press office were not answered. CPJ could not find contact information for the president’s son.

The criminal investigation is the latest move by Venezuela’s authoritarian government against El Nacional, founded 80 years ago in Caracas, which used to be one of the country’s largest-circulation and most influential newspapers. However, a newsprint shortage and government harassment, including fines, defamation lawsuits, and the seizure of its building and printing presses in 2021, forced El Nacional to become a web-only news operation with many journalists and editors living in exile.