Thinkcrime update

RSF Warning: Dissing the powerful might be hazardous to your freedom

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern after the state prosecutor’s office laid a charge of ”insult” against Napoleón Bravo of Venevisión TV on 8 February 2006, since it would be the first to be tried under draconian criminal law reform.

The organisation said it feared damage to press freedom, as the law, promulgated on 16 March 2005, steps up sanctions for press offences.

“With the Napoleón Bravo precedent, the application of the criminal code reform will seriously compromise the future of press freedom in Venezuela, since this law is so harsh towards the media,” said the press freedom organisation.

“Moreover the journalist is likely to be sentenced on matters dating back to before the law came into force, trampling on the fundamental principle of non-retroactivity,” it added.

Do note, Napoleon Bravo (whom I don’t much respect as a journalist, but that’s neither here nor there) is not being tried for defamation. He’s being tried for insulting state officials, desacato in Spanish.

There’s a big difference. The state is not going after him for making an untrue statement of fact. The state is trying him for expressing an opinion, for saying what he thinks.

Desacato norms have been condemned repeatedly by international human rights groups. The trend in Latin America has been for such laws to be struck off the books. The few countries that have them tend to no longer enforce them. And for good reason: penalizing opinions comes close to instituting thinkcrimes.

Only Venezuela is going in the other direction, broadening its desacato provisions, stiffening penalties, and now enforcing the new laws.