Armando.info, the leading Venezuelan investigative journalism site, faces a big-time defamation suit forcing three of its editors (Alfredo Meza, Ewald Scharfenberg and Joseph Poliszuk) and reporter Roberto Deniz to leave the country for safety concerns.
In a press release, Armando.info explains that Colombian businessman Alex Saab filed a lawsuit in a Caracas court last September for “defamation” and “libel” against the site relating to a couple of reports about his involvement in the government’s CLAP food distribution program. Those two reports were published in April and September of last year (paywall).
— SNTP (@sntpvenezuela) September 3, 2017
After publishing the second report, a Twitter account started doxxing Armando.info’s people — publishing their personal data and making threats. The account was shut down, but the pressure against editors and reporters has continued.
Saab was accused in late August by ousted Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz of being one of the heads of the company Group Grand Limited, closely linked with Nicolás Maduro. His name first made the news in relation to Trenaco, the Colombian trucking firm that was too corrupt even for PDVSA to do business with.
Armando.info has been recognized for its involvement in the Pulitzer-winning international investigation known as the Panama Papers. The reports Armando.info published about the Venezuelan aspect of the story were later released as a book. At the time of the investigation’s release on April 2016, the site was victim of a DDoS attack and it was accused of working for the U.S. by State Media along with other Venezuelan non-hegemony news sites.
The site also won last year an Excellence in Journalism award from the Inter-American Press Society (better known for its Spanish acronym SIP).
According to IPYS Venezuela, this lawsuit is the 31st case of its kind against a media outlet between 2002 and 2017. From Correo del Caroní to Tal Cual, the use of the judiciary as a way to silence critical voices still remains a hegemony favorite.
The people behind Armando.info know the kind of people they’re dealing with. Better than most. They remain committed to doing their work:
Despite the threats and pressures that the businessman’s lawsuit (Saab) suppose to journalists and the exercise of free speech, the team of Armando.info will keep its editorial line, along with its mission to publish wide-range journalistic investigations.