A law aiming to tighten the rules regulating internet content has been approved by the Venezuelan parliament.
The bill bans online messages inciting hatred, or political and religious intolerance, but it also prohibits contents deemed disrespectful to public officials.
Arguing that the law is a threat to freedom of speech, opposition politicians voted against it.
The country’s president Hugo Chavez (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) says it will help protect citizens against online crimes by shielding them from messages promoting drug use, prostitution and other crimes.
The new law means that providers of online contents and internet portals could be fined if images or messages appearing on their sites “disrespect public authorities, incite or promote hatred or create anxiety in the citizenry or alter public order”.
“We aren’t eliminating the internet here, or censoring it,” he said during his weekly television and radio broadcast on Sunday.
“What we’re doing is protecting ourselves against crimes, against cybercrimes,” he added.
The measure was described as another step on the way to censorship by the Venezuelan Chamber of Electronic Commerce, who also criticised the blocking of websites.
Opposition politicians accuse Chavez of passing a raft of restrictive laws before January, when a new parliament with more opposition delegates is to be sworn in.
Just days before this measure was passed, parliament voted to give president Chavez special powers to pass laws by decree for 18 months, in order to deal with the aftermath of devastating floods.