News media sued for publishing the truth.
Newspapers harassed until they stop publishing.
A journalist jailed for taking too-close photos of Venezuelan ruler Nicolas Maduro.
Those are the latest chapters in the systematic destruction of freedom of the press in Venezuela, a civil right vanishing as the Maduro dictatorship grows stronger.
The focus of the campaign this week was El Nacional newspaper, which announced Friday that it had ended 75 years of uninterrupted print publication, a victim of government pressures.
After withstanding the government harassment for several years, El Nacional finally reached “the breaking point,” deputy editor Elías Pino Iturrieta announced.
The newspaper will continue to post its reporting on its website, but the printed edition was abandoned because of government-imposed obstacles to obtaining newsprint and other supplies.
Pino said the decision was “the result of government pressures and the lack of freedom of expression.”
El Nacional was one of the few politically independent newspapers that continued to publish despite the Maduro regime’s pressures to silence its coverage of Venezuelan reality.
Several smaller newspapers had already stopped publishing because of the lack of newsprint, while TV and radio broadcasters and Internet portals were bought up by investors friendly to Maduro and dramatically changed their editorial lines.
In its last print edition, El Nacional noted that the Maduro regime has closed or forced editorial changes on at least 99 radio and TV stations and 33 newspapers, and legally prosecuted more than 50 journalists.
The newspaper’s decision to stop its print editions sparked a chorus of denunciations around the world, criticizing the gradual destruction of the free press in Venezuela and expressing support for El Nacional.
“This situation is another step back for freedom of the press under a government that continues to destroy the rights of its citizens, the country and democracy,” said María Elvira Domínguez, president of the InterAmerican Press Association.
Former Colombia President Andrés Pastrana wrote on his Twitter account that El Nacional “is a warrior, and we democrats in Latin America and the world will continue supporting its fight to return democracy to Venezuela. Always forward. Not one step back!”
El Nacional was among the news media sued by the government’s No. 2, Diosdado Cabello, for publishing U.S. news media reports that he is under investigation as the alleged head of the so-called Cartel of the Suns, which controls much of the drug traffic in Venezuela.
Venezuelan courts, controlled by Maduro supporters, have already slapped fines of more than $30 million on several of the news outlets sued, including the newspaper Tal Cual and the news website La Patilla
The news media sued vowed to continue reporting, but the government’s campaign against the news media and freedom of expression has been incessant, even affecting foreign media.
Several Venezuelan human and civil rights groups this week condemned the arbitrary arrest of German journalist Billy Six, accused of espionage before a military tribunal after he came “too close” to take a photo of Maduro.
Six, a well-known war correspondent, was arrested in the Paraguana peninsula west of Caracas. Intelligence officials then transported him, without a court order, to the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service headquarters in Caracas.
Although the Maduro government has been highly critical of local journalists, foreign reporters targeted generally receive better treatment — maybe a few days of detention followed by expulsion.
But Six was in Venezuela investigating drug trafficking, gasoline and other smuggling, people trafficking and the exodus of migrants due to the social and economic crisis that the country faces — issues that the Maduro regime prefers to hide.
“The arbitrary detention and use of military tribunals shows again a well thought-out effort to repress the search for and dissemination of information, ideas and opinions which differ from the official line and therefore reveal details of the complex humanitarian emergency facing the country,” more than a dozen non-government organizations declared in a joint statement this week.
“We reject efforts to criminalize the practice of journalism, especially in a critical context, when disinformation is promoted through aggressions, attacks and threats to … national and foreign news media,” the statement said.