Chavez backtracks on Venezuela spy law

Por Venezuela Real - 8 de Junio, 2008, 14:51, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER
Washington Post
June 08, 2008

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that his government will rewrite a new intelligence law to calm fears in Venezuela that the decree could be used to stifle dissent.
Human rights groups had criticized an overhaul of the country's intelligence services, which included a clause requiring citizens to act as informants if authorities believe they have information on national security threats.

The law would have punished noncooperative citizens with up to four years in prison, raising concerns that Venezuelans would have been forced to spy on their neighbors.

Chavez told supporters Saturday that his government would soon amend the controversial law to protect civil rights. "Mistakes" were made in the decree and would be corrected, he said.

"I guarantee the country that nobody will be tread upon, and nobody will be forced to say anything they don't want to say," he said. "This is a political battle, not a legal battle."

Chavez backtracked a day after Venezuelan Catholic Church officials condemned the decree. Speaking to journalists after a Mass on Friday, Venezuelan Cardinal Jorge Urosa warned that the law "restricts human rights consecrated in the Constitution."

Human rights groups compared the decree to the U.S. Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, because both allow authorities to monitor suspects' phone calls and e-mails without court permission. Under Venezuela's law, authorities can also withhold evidence from defense lawyers, if it is deemed to be in the interest of national security.

Citizen Control, a Caracas-based non-governmental organization that monitors security and human rights issues, released a statement applauding the president's decision. It urged Chavez to allow human rights activists help correct the decree and submit the final draft for congressional approval.

"He's demonstrated that he has the intention of rectifying and amending the law, and that's healthy for democracy," the group said.

Chavez says the new intelligence law, which he quietly decreed last month, will help Venezuela detect and neutralize national security threats.






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