This blog post was written by Marianne Diaz, Venezuelan lawyer and fiction writer, blogger for Amnesty International on Human Rights issues, she focuses on gender, poverty and work issues, and freedom of speech and information. This entry was originally posted by Global Voices Advocacy.
The long wave of interventions to banks in Venezuela, has led, inevitably, to lots of rumors about which banking institution is soon to be intervened. The Federal Bank, seized last week, is the twelfth bank intervened by the government since November 2009.
A week ago, venezuelan Vice-President, Elias Jaua, declared that President Hugo Chávez ordered the Ministry of Interior and Justice to initiate a thorough and systematic investigation in order to identify the sources of the rumors about the instability of private banking. Jaua stated that generation of rumors is a “crime punishable by imprisonment from nine to 11 years” and warned that participants of “digital forums that have become centers of political conspiracy” will be punished. Meanwhile, the Minister for Interior and Justice, Tarek El Aissami, said “We are on the trail of those responsible for manipulation and terrorism.“
Likewise, the chairman of the Banking Association of Venezuela, Juan Carlos Escotet, supported the measure, and warned that online social networks “in no way can lend themselves to spread rumors that are expressly provided as a crime under the General Banking Law.” Escotet added that those who generate such information, “by any means, Twitter, text messages, or through any media” would be committing a crime. The above mentioned General Banking Law states the following:
Artículo 448.Las personas naturales o jurídicas que difundan noticias falsas o empleen otros medios fraudulentos capaces de causar distorsiones al sistema bancario nacional que afecten las condiciones económicas del país, serán penados con prisión de nueve (9) a once (11) años. Art. 448. Any natural or juridical person who spreads fake news or uses other fraudulent methods capable of causing distortions to the national bank system which affect the economic conditions of the country,will be punished with prison, from 9 to 11 years.
Although it’s evident that with every right comes a responsibility, several users have manifested their disagreement with this announcement, specially because of its consequences over the online behavior, caused by fear. We may recall that Chavez’s previous threatens against those bloggers who published information about the black market of dollar in Venezuela, led to the self-shutdown of the most popular blogs on the subject in the country. However, the venezuelan twitter community remains very unpleased with this measure.
Apparently, it’s not the law itself what is bugging twitterers and bloggers, but the government’s alleged disproportion in choosing which behaviors apply it to, and that it seems that lately, citizen’s online behavior is more of a concern than hunger, poverty and insecurity. However, it might be the suitable moment to remember that several websites, such as Noticiero Digital, already had policies regarding suspension of their forum users who speaked about banking rumors.
If anything, this isn’t the first time something similar happens. Last year, in Guatemala, a citizen was arrested for the crime of “fiscal panic“, and in Seúl, a blogger was also imprisoned for spreading financial rumors.