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Venezuela judge removed from case against Chavez government critic

[JURIST] Venezuela judge Alicia Torres said Monday that she has been removed from her position presiding over a case against Globovision TV [media website, in Spanish] owner Guillermo Zuloaga. Zuloaga has been charged with usury and conspiracy [LAHT report] to commit a crime, and Torres said she was removed from the case after she refused to issue an order [Nacional report, in Spanish] prohibiting Zuloaga from leaving the country. Globovision has been critical of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [JURIST news archive], and Zuloago has said the charges against him are politically motivated. Commentators have also said that Torres's dismissal is further evidence [Globovision report] of the government using the judiciary to quiet opponents.

Zuloaga's trial is the latest in a series of disputes between the government and independent media outlets. In May 2007, Venezuelan Information Minister William Lara filed lawsuits [JURIST report] against media giant CNN and Globovision, alleging that the two stations presented false information concerning Chavez and that Globovision issued a call for Chavez's assassination. In August 2007, the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice suspended an order [JURIST report] issued by the government's telecommunication commission requiring Radio Caracas Television to register as a "national audiovisual production service" or face shutdown after agreeing to hear a case on whether cable and satellite television channels are obligated to transmit government-mandated content. In July 2006, the Inter American Press Association claimed Chavez was silencing dissent [JURIST report] by prosecuting journalists under questionable circumstances.

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