The editor of a Venezuelan newspaper accused the number two official in President Nicolas Maduro’s government of trying to censor his publication with an illegal defamation suit.
Teodoro Petkoff, the editor of the independent newspaper Tal Cual, and a known critic of the current government led by President Maduro, as well as his predecessor Hugo Chavez, asked the country’s prosecutors to investigate Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly.
This legal spat began even before student protests started sweeping the country in February. But Petkoff now views the incident as a government attempt to control an opposition media outlet.
“This is [an] episode of serious abuse, because Cabello is the power in Venezuela,” Luis Carlos Diaz, a journalist who has a weekly column on Tal Cual, told Mashable.
Cabello filed a suit against Petkoff and his newspaper on Jan. 24, arguing that Tal Cual contributor Carlos Genatios (a former minister in the Chavez government who now opposes Maduro) used a quote Cabello never actually said in an op-ed published on Jan. 17. Genatios quoted Cabello as saying, “If you don’t like insecurity, get out of the country.” (The nation has been crippled by crime, which has in turn hobbled its economy. Food shortages also plague Venezuela.)
At the time, after filing the defamation suit, Cabello tweeted that he had “never uttered” that phrase.
On Monday, Petkoff accused Cabello of using this suit as a censorship tool, to silence him and his newspaper.
“This suit has no rhyme or reason, this is just a pretext […] This is an action against a fundamental right that is freedom of expression,” said Petkoff in a YouTube video posted on Monday. “We won’t shut up, they won’t silence us, they’d have to shut the newspaper down, they would have to throw us out of the country,” he added. “If they shut the newspaper down, we’ll open a new one.”
Petkoff also accused Cabello of several irregularities when Cabello filed the suit, including an allegedly forged document. Petkoff asked the Venezuela attorney general to open a criminal investigation into these claims.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais, however, notes that it’s unlikely that the attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz will open up an investigation into Cabello, since Diaz herself is a “known Chavism supporter.” Chavism is the word the opposition uses to describe Chavez’s socialist government, which continues with his successor, Maduro.
The judge who accepted Cabello’s defamation suit ordered Petkoff and other Tal Cual editors not to leave the country and report to the court once a week. If found guilty, they could end up in prison, according to El Pais.
The Venezuelan government has a tight grip on the country’s media, so much so that the opposition claims Twitter is the only free media at this point. In the wake of the protests, the Venezuelan government forced a Colombia news channel off satellite listings, and even revoked the press credentials of several CNN journalists.
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