Anti-Chavez newspaper editor released in Venezuela

AP News
Posted: Nov 21, 2011 6:56 PM
Anti-Chavez newspaper editor released in Venezuela

A jailed newspaper editor who staged a hunger strike for nearly two weeks to protest what he calls persecution by allies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was let go Monday and then hospitalized.

Leocenis Garcia entered a private health clinic. The local Globovision television channel broadcast video of Garcia raising a fist in the air while lying on a stretcher being wheeled into the Vista California clinic.

The editor's sister, Maria Lucia Garcia, said he was experiencing intense stomach pains.

Garcia's lawyer, Pedro Aranguren, said a judge ordered his client freed from jail, but added that the editor still faces charges of insulting public officials and instigating hatred. Garcia insists he is innocent.

"He was unjustly jailed for a journalistic opinion," Aranguren told Globovision shortly before Garcia was released.

Garcia had been held at the headquarters of Venezuela's national intelligence agency, Sebin, since he surrendered to authorities Aug. 30.

He began a hunger strike on Nov. 8 to demand the charges be dropped. Authorities took him to a military hospital over the weekend, saying the move was a preventative measure aimed at safeguarding his health.

A warrant for Garcia's arrest was issued shortly after his newspaper, Sexto Poder, published a photomontage referring to "Chavez's women in power" that depicted the Supreme Court president, the elections chief and four other prominent women officials as cabaret dancers in revealing skirts and high heels. An accompanying article suggested that various people who hold top independent offices in the government had subordinated their posts to the president.

Garcia's case drew the attention of Chavez opponents and press freedom organizations, which demanded the editor's immediate release.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the criminal charges against Garcia as part of a broader government strategy aimed at muzzling critics. The Paris-based group also questioned the validity of charging him with insulting public officials and instigating hatred.

Chavez denies cracking down on his detractors within the media. He notes that many newspapers and broadcasters are strongly critical of his government and says some openly insult and mock him.


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