[JURIST] Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega [official profile, in Spanish] on Thursday proposed legislation [press release, in Spanish] to limit the media's freedom of expression in certain circumstances, citing the importance of national security. Under the proposed law, journalists could 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. The law would also punish those who disseminate false information, resulting in public panic. Ortiz later stressed to the media that the measures are essential for balancing freedom of expression with safety and security concerns:
The Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website] called the proposed legislation [press release] a "serious setback to freedom of expression and democracy in Venezuela, and part of a pattern of repression by President Chavez to silence independent and critical voices." The National Assembly [official website, in Spanish], controlled by allies of President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], began debating the measure Thursday and is expected to approve it within the next few months.
Venezuela has been criticized repeatedly for its limits on freedom of expression and religion. In May, 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 February the US State Department criticized Venezuela for press restrictions in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. In September, Venezuelan officials ordered two senior Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] staff to leave the country [JURIST report] after after the group released a report [press release] concluding that democracy and human rights have suffered during the Chavez administration.