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Venezuela passes law banning certain Internet content

The National Assembly of Venezuela [official website, in Spanish] on Monday passed the Social Responsibility Law [text, PDF, in Spanish], which bans Internet content that promotes unrest among citizens or challenges legally established authorities. The law expands 2004 restrictions [AFP report] on television, radio and print media to Internet and electronic subscription services content. The National Assembly announced that the law aims to promote Venezuelan values [press release, in Spanish], guarantee freedom of expression and diffuse information that "contributes to the formation of a social conscience" of the population. Media organizations that violate the new measure face increased fines, as well as the possible revocation of media licenses for repeat offenders. The law moved through the unicameral National Assembly in less than a week by the ruling party led by President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Opposition leaders disapprove of the new law, arguing that it restricts freedom of speech and violates constitutionally granted rights.

The Venezuelan government has faced criticism for repeatedly restricting freedom of expression. In June, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] sent a letter to the Venezuelan government expressing concern over the increasing threat to freedom of expression [press release; JURIST report] in the country. In July 2009, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega proposed legislation [press release, in Spanish; JURIST report] to limit the media's freedom of expression in certain circumstances, citing the importance of national security. Under the proposed law, journalists would face up to four years in prison for "threatening the social peace, security and independence of the nation, public order, stability of state institutions, mental health, and public morals and for generating a climate of impunity or insecurity. Prior to the proposed legislation, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) [official website] added Venezuela to its "watch list" [JURIST report] of countries that limit religious freedom in May 2009. In February 2009, the US State Department (DOS) [official website] criticized Venezuela [JURIST report] for press restrictions in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

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