Venezuela’s Attorney General Will Not Pursue Case against Newspaper

The Attorney General's office decided that it would not have a case against the prominent newspaper El Universal in charging it with defamation. Its investigation suggests, though, that the Supreme Court could have a case against the paper.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 4, 2005 —Venezuela’s Attorney General’s Office announced yesterday that it would not seek a case against the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal for vilification of Attorney General, Isaias Rodriguez. Last week, Isaias Rodriguez had said that he would investigate if his office could pursue a case against the newspaper for an editorial it published on July 25th, titled “Justice on its Knees,” in which it argued that the Attorney General’s office and Venezuela’s courts are politicized and have lost legitimacy.

Following the investigation, the state prosecutor concluded, “one cannot speak of vilification in the case of the Public Ministry [Attorney General’s office],” because article 149 of the penal code, which penalizes defamation, does not mention the Attorney General’s office as such, but only certain key government officials, such as the President, Supreme Court judges, or the Attorney General. The newspaper editorial in question, though, only speaks of the “Public Ministry,” which includes the Attorney General’s office, but does not mention the Attorney General himself.

Another reason why a case against the newspaper cannot proceed, according to the investigating attorney, is that if the editorial had mentioned the Attorney General himself, such cases must be pursued as private matters and not by the institution to which the Attorney General belongs.

Article 225 of the penal code does allow for the prosecution of individuals who insult governmental institutions. However, the Attorney General’s office is not one of the institutions protect in this way by the law. The courts, though, are included in the list of protected institutions, which means that the Supreme Court, as the highest body in the court system, could still pursue a case against the newspaper, according to the Attorney General’s office’s investigator.

The original article, against which Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez took offense, argued that Venezuela’s justice system has been subordinated to ideology and that this has therefore “produced a delegitimation of the Public Ministry and of the courts.” The editorial went on to demand a professional and coordinated justice system. Rodriguez stated that one of his main objections to the article was it’s title, "Justice on its knees," which implied that the justice system was subordinated to other interests.

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) had issued a statement, following Rodriguez’s announcement about the investigation of el Universal, that such a move is, “a grave intromission into the editorial policies of an independent mass medium,” and an attack on freedom of expression.

Rodriguez reacted strongly to the IAPA statement, pointing out that the organization is made up of media owners and pointed out that one of the newspaper’s editorial board members is also a lawyer for a group of individuals who are being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office. Rodriguez said that this is an ethical conflict, “where the editorial line might be confused with the interests of a lawyer who might or might not have used the newspaper.”