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Venezuela Blasts Report Citing Human Rights Violations

Venezuela disputed on Thursday a hemispheric group's report citing human rights violations and political repression under the government of socialist President Hugo Chavez.

Local rights activists, conversely, applauded the 300-page account issued by the human rights committee of the Organization of American States, saying it sheds light on widespread rights violations the international community has largely ignored.

The report released Wednesday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights strongly cites a lack of independence of Venezuela's judiciary, the closing of news media outlets that are critical of the government and political discrimination and repression under Chavez.

"We don't recognize the commission as an impartial institution," said Gabriela Ramirez, Venezuela's top rights guarantor. Ramirez said the report incorrectly concludes that "the Venezuelan state threatens democracy and human rights."

The report condemned the procedures for appointing and removing judges in Venezuela, saying the regulations "lack the safeguards necessary to prevent other branches of government from undermining the Supreme Court's independence."

Government opponents have long complained that the Supreme Court — whose members are appointed by the predominantly pro-Chavez National Assembly — has been packed with the president's allies, giving him nearly unlimited power. Chavez, however, denies holding sway over justices.

The OAS commission also called attention to an increase in sanctions against news media, singling out the case of Globovision, a television news network that is fiercely critical of Chavez.

Globovision has been repeatedly fined for allegedly violating broadcast regulations, and Chavez has threatened to shutter the defiant network.

"It is of particular concern," the rights commission said, "that in several of these cases, the investigations and administrative procedures began after the highest authorities of the state called on public agencies to take action against Globovision and other media outlets that are independent and critical of the government."

The report strongly condemned what it called "a trend toward the use of criminal charges to punish people exercising their right to demonstrate or protest against government policies," adding that more than 2,200 people have been indicted on criminal charges stemming from their participation in protests in recent years.

Carlos Correa, a leader of the Venezuelan human rights group Espacio Publico, welcomed the report, saying "it makes the violations that are occurring in Venezuela more visible" and should attract the attention of the international community.

The report carries more weight than statements from independent rights watchdogs, Correa said, because it "comes from an institution made up of the hemisphere's own states."