New York, June 5, 2013--A U.S. filmmaker jailed in Venezuela since April on trumped-up charges of espionage has been freed and deported from the country, news accounts reported today. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of Timothy Hallet Tracy, and calls on Venezuelan authorities to allow all journalists to work without interference.
"While we are relieved that Timothy Hallet Tracy's ordeal is over, his imprisonment was unfounded from the start," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas. "That Tracy was imprisoned for six weeks without authorities ever presenting serious evidence smacks of political opportunism at a volatile moment in Venezuela."
Authorities released Tracy from jail and put him on a plane bound for Miami early this morning, according to news reports. The filmmaker's attorney told reporters that he had been released because of a lack of sufficient evidence.
Police arrested Tracy at the international airport in Caracas on April 24 and accused him of being involved in a plot to destabilize the country on behalf of an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency. Tracy, a producer and consultant for movies and television in California, had been in Venezuela filming events since 2012, according to news reports.
Authorities said evidence against Tracy had included a video that shows young people making jokes in a room. Venezuelan minister of interior, justice, and peace, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, also said in a press conference that a search of Tracy's apartment had resulted in the confiscation of dozens of videos and photos that he said proved Tracy was involved in a plot.
Rodríguez told reporters today that Tracy had been released and expelled from the country on the orders of the president, and reiterated the accusations against the filmmaker. He did not offer further details.
The arrest came amid high tension in the country. President Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chávez in April after narrowly defeating Capriles, accused the political opposition of trying to orchestrate a coup with support from the U.S., according to news reports.
"We call on authorities and the new government of President Maduro to create a climate in which journalists can work freely and to reverse the 14-year trend under the previous government that saw a serious erosion of press freedom in the country," CPJ's Lauría said.
- For more on Venezuela, visit CPJ's Venezuela page here.