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Venezuelan judge says newspapers can print violent pictures

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • An official says a judge lifted his order but will allow a lawsuit against a newspaper to continue
  • A published front-page photo of bodies at a morgue prompted the judge's original ruling
  • "Violent, bloody or grotesque" photos can cause harm to children, the court decreed
  • Newspaper editor says the government is not doing enough to stop crime

(CNN) -- A judge has lifted an order banning Venezuelan media from printing violent photographs, an official said on state-owned VTV.

Judge William Paez Jimenez made his decision Thursday, two days after ruling that "violent, bloody or grotesque" photographs could not be published for 30 days because the pictures could cause psychological and moral harm to children.

Paez's initial order came amid growing government sensitivity to news reports of rampant crime in the country. It focused on a photograph recently printed by two newspapers -- showing about a dozen bodies, mostly naked, sprawled on tables at a morgue in Caracas.

Larry Devoe, general director of judicial services for the people's defense, said on VTV Thursday that Paez had lifted his original order, but would allow a lawsuit against the Tal Cual newspaper to continue.

Paez's initial order drew sharp criticism from international press freedom advocates.

Earlier Thursday, representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States said that the judge's decision compromised the right to free expression.

"It constitutes an act of prior censorship which, moreover, imposes limits that are so vague and imprecise that they block the written press from being able to publish any information that could upset or annoy the government authorities," the organizations' rapporteurs on freedom of expression said in a joint statement.

The Tuesday ruling occurred in response to a complaint by three citizens about the color photograph, which first ran August 13 on El Nacional's front page alongside a story about violence. Tal Cual published the photo Monday.

"[The court] imposes this protective action in favor of the collective children and adolescents who live in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, for the violation and the threat to their health rights, to their physical, psychological and moral integrity, as well as receiving information adequate to their integral development," his original 10-page ruling said.

Miguel Otero, editor and owner of El Nacional, said Tuesday that the government's response had been "disproportionate."

"The editorial reasoning behind the photo was to create a shock so that people could in some way react to a situation that the government has done absolutely nothing about," he told CNN en Espanol.

The government has said the morgue is in much better condition than shown in the photo, which officials contend was taken years ago.

Otero said the newspaper made it clear the photo was taken in December 2009.

The government, which controls several news outlets in Venezuela, has drawn criticism from U.S. officials and from global groups that advocate for a free press, who have accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of seeking to limit free speech.

Chavez, who says violent crime in Venezuela is falling, has accused the opposition of trying to exaggerate the issue. Security concerns are of particular interest now, a little more than a month before Sept. 26 parliamentary elections.

In a comment to the state-run VTV station, Chavez called the reports "desperate" acts by "right-wing sectors."

Cabinet member Gabriela Ramirez, whose title is defender of the public, said El Nacional ran the morgue photo to boost its circulation, which she claimed was flagging.

The bodies at the morgue, she said, belonged to accident victims or people who had killed themselves.

CNN's Gustavo Valdes contributed to this report.