Chavez closes “threatening” TV station

Chavez closes “threatening” TV station

By Christopher Gehrke

Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, South America

Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), Venezuela’s oldest television station, was taken off the air May 27th after 53 years of broadcasting. The decision not to renew RCTV’s lease was made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who said that RCTV “became a threat to the country” and that he had a “responsibility” to shut it down.  RCTV’s news programs regularly disparage President Chavez’s socialist-leaning transformation of Venezuelan government. Chavez defended his decision by claiming that the station supported a coup against him in 2002. The station will be replaced by the state-sponsored Venezuelan Social TV (TVES). The other two national stations, Venevision and Televen, have already removed all content critical of the government from their programming.


RCTV supporters say that Chavez is stomping on freedom of expression by silencing a channel that is often critical. José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch agrees, and stated that Chavez is “misusing the state’s regulatory authority to punish a media outlet for its criticism of the government.” Gonzalo Marroquín, the president of the Inter-American Press Association said in a statement that Chavez’s decision was intended to “standardize the right to information, and results in a very bleak outlook for the whole hemisphere.” The U.S. Senate and E.U. Parliament also criticized RCTV’s closure.

The government argues that the station violated broadcast laws and transmitted violent and morally degrading programs. The government’s “White Book on RCTV”, which details the allegations made against the station, accuses RCTV of “inciting rebellion,” showing a “lack of respect for authorities and institutions,” as well. Human Rights Watch points out that the White Book does not present any final judicial or administrative rulings that establish that RCTV had committed any of these offenses, nor was the criteria on which this decision was based available beforehand.


Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets Sunday, some celebrating the decision, some protesting it. Police claimed that shots were fired in their direction and that 11 officers were injured by protesters hurling rocks. A protest rally made their way to the headquarters of the broadcasting regulator to voice their disapproval. The crowd was dispersed by police wielding tear gas, water cannons, and plastic bullets.

For more information, see:

“Venezuela police repel protests over TV network’s closing” NY Times: (free login required) 28 May 2007.

“Venezuela Shuts Down TV Network” NY Times: (free login required) 28 May 2007.

“Venezuela: TV Shutdown Harms Freedom of Expression” Human Rights Watch: 28 May 2007.

“Rallies as Venezuelan TV closes” BBC News: 28 May 2007.

“TV row widens Venezuela’s rift” BBC News: 28 May 2007.

Birth control crackdown in rural China sparks riots

China launched its one-child per couple policy in 1980 to try to maintain swift economic growth and feed and control the country’s growing population of 1.3 billion people. Recently, however, the central government in Beijing announced it was time to strictly enforce the one-child policy. In Bobai County of the Guangxi Province, primarily a rural, farming village, family planning officials threatened families who failed to pay fines for having more than one child. Some officials have even been accused of forcing women to submit to abortions or sterilizations. In response, however, thousands of peasants and townspeople gathered at government and birth control centers, clashing with police. Twenty-eight people have been arrested for instigating riots against China’s one-child policy.

Locals in Buffalo Village, however, have managed to beat China’s system. The records at the county maternity hospital are filled with lists of multiple pregnancies.  Mothers have used fertility drugs to get around the one-child policy by having twins, triplets, quadruplets, and even quintuplets. China does not impose fines on a mother who has multiple children at a time.

For more information please see:

Washington Post – Birth Control Crackdown Sparks Riots In Rural China – 23 May 2007

BBC News – Chinese Challenge One-Child Policy – 25 May 2007

Channel News Asia – China arrests 28 in family planning riots – 23 May 2007

Pope makes first visit to Brazil, angers Indians

Pope Benedict made his first visit to Brazil convening a 19 day conference of Latin American Bishops. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world and is also a country where there is a clear challenge to the church. In his speeches, Pope Benedict warned against moving away from Catholic values and suggested that those values are the answer to present social and economic issues.  He blamed the gap between the rich and the poor on Marxism and capitalism in the region as well as the growth of Protestantism. The Pope drew a lower turnout then expected, reflecting the decreasing influence of the Catholic Church as well as the weaker appeal of this Pope in comparison to Pope John Paul II.

In response to the Pope’s visit and statements, Indian leaders stated they were outraged and offended by the Pope’s “arrogant and disrespectful” comments regarding the imposition of the Church on the indigenous people. Pope Benedict said that the indigenous people welcomed the arrival of European Priests and were “silently longing” for Christianity. However, millions of Indians died from slaughter, disease or enslavement as a result of the European colonization supported by the Catholic Church. Today, Indians still struggle for survival as they have been deprived of their traditional ways of life.

Brazil is home to over 450,000 Indians who mostly inhabit small reserves with few opportunities to make a living.  Many Indian groups sent an open letter to the Pope asking for support in defending their ancestral lands against the government as they have suffered a “process of genocide” since the first colonization began. The letter stated that the assassination of Indian leaders was still occurring from people who invaded their lands. Jecinald Satere Mawe, of the Amazon Indian group Coiab, stated that it was arrogant and disrespectful of the Pope to “consider our cultural heritage secondary to theirs.” In addition to Indian groups being outraged, the Pope also angered Catholic priests who have joined the struggle of the Indians. Sandro Tuxa, who heads northeastern tribal movement, stated that the Pope had been poorly advised and that his statements were offensive and frightening. Cimi, Catholic Churches own Indian advocacy group in Brazil distanced itself from the Pope after his comments.

For more information see:

Iran Charges Iranian-American Scholar

        Haleh Esfandiari was prevented from returning to the US in December 2006, arrested on May 8, and recently accused of working to disrupt Iranian sovereignty.  Esfandiari, who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, works as the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, in Washington DC.  Part of her job includes planning conferences for Iranian leaders, civil, academic, and governmental, in the US on issues involving Iran.  Last December, while en route to the Tehran airport, her luggage, which held both passports, was confiscated; effectively preventing her from leaving the country.  Since December 2006 and her arrest in early May 2007, Esfandiari was repeatedly interrogated and denied access to legal counsel.  In addition to Dr. Esfandiari, two other Iranian-Americans (Ali Shakeri and Kian Tajbakhsh) are in currently in Iranian prison and a fourth, Parnaz Azima, had her passport confiscated and as a result she is prevented from leaving Iran.

        There are various theories as to why Iran is currently detaining four Iran-American citizens.  First,  that the hard-liners in the Iranian government are hoping to derail US-Iranian talks regarding the war in Iraq.  Second, that the Iranian government hopes to use the detainees as leverage to negotiate a prisoner trade to guarantee the release of the five Iranians arrested in northern Iraq in early January 2007.  Regardless to the reason behind Esfandiari’s and the other Iranian-Americans’ detentions, analysts agree that there is no rational basis and that the detainees should be released.

For more information, please see:

CNN:  “Iranian-American political prisoners”  25 May 2007.

Human Rights Watch:  “Iran: Another Iranian-American Scholar Detained”  24 May 2007.

CNN:  “Iran imprisons 4th Iranian-American”  23 May 2007.

NY Times:  “Iran Accuses American of Revolution Plot”  22 May 2007.

BBC:  “Iran accuses US-Iranian scholar”  22 May 2007.

BBC:  “US-Iranian academic detained in Iran”  9 May 2007.

A rival political party in Egypt

          Egypt has allowed for the creation of a new political party to rival the President Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. The Democratic Front will be headed by Osama al-Ghazali, a former NDP leader. He split ways with the National Democratic Party over the constitutional amendments passed in March. He was an academic political affairs writer who left the party and the council because he believed that the party leadership was not committed to political reform. The party is planning to focus on a free market economy and fully democratic nation.

         This is a major development in the Egyptian politics because it legitimizes the Egyptian elections. Previously, Mubarak’s party had basically run unopposed and so was able to unilaterally push its own agenda under the cover of the Egyptian constitutional democracy. The only check on the party was through protest and through the rival party of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood had been outlawed, but recently the brotherhood have had key members tried before a military tribunal. According to the BBC, the maxim of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Islam is the solution.”

        According to the government, the amendments fought terrorism and promoted democracy. The amendments were pushed by the government as the end of the emergency powers, which were enacted after President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981.  It fought terrorism by allowing the president to send a terrorist case to any judicial authority that the president deems necessary, including military tribunals. Human rights groups are fearful that the unchecked authority given to the president for the prosecution of terrorists will allow for abusive enforcement. Also, it promoted democracy by recommending a multi-party system, but limited those parties by prohibiting a party with a religious affiliation. 

        Opponents believed that the amendments did not end the emergency power, but rather made those powers permanent. It believed that some of the amendments perpetuated the rule of the National Democratic Party, and set up Gamal Mubarak to be the next ruler of Egypt. The amendments further undercut the Muslim Brotherhood, because it did not allow them to organize as a political group, and allowed for the president to prosecute them in any manner the president desires.

        The new liberal party may present a sign of true democracy in Egypt, by creating the tension necessary for the nation to be more accountable to the people. If however, the party does not grow into an actual rival party to the National Democratic Party, then despite its opponents efforts the National Democratic Party may continue to enforce its will unopposed.

BBC News: A Permanent Emergency. 27 March 2007.

BBC News: Egypt Allows New Political Party. 24 May 2007.

Al-Jazeera: Egypt New Opposition Party. 24 May 2007.

Sunday Times New Zealand. Egypt Approves New Party. 25 May 2007.