Venezuela blocks Argentine website showing politician's corpse

By Andrew Cawthorne and Diego Ore

CARACAS (Reuters) - An outraged Venezuelan government sought on Friday to block an Argentine website that published photos of the corpse of a young Socialist Party legislator stabbed to death last week in a mystery that has convulsed the nation.

In a gruesome and murky case, Robert Serra, 27, a rising star in the ruling party, and his companion Maria Herrera, died of multiple knife wounds late at night in his Caracas home.

President Nicolas Maduro has accused radical opponents of being behind the murder and promised to reveal details soon, though various other theories have been doing the rounds among Venezuelans appalled by the killing.

Photos of Serra's naked and mutilated body in a morgue appeared on social media on Friday and were reproduced by the Argentine news site Infobae.

Venezuela's public prosecutor's office immediately ordered an investigation and Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the website was being blocked.

"For staining the honour of our young parliamentarian Robert Serra and for disrespecting the integrity of his family, the Infobae Web portal has been blocked," she said on Twitter.

Infobae said Venezuela was over-reacting.

"We reject the Maduro government's censure of Infobae," its director Valeria Cavallo told Reuters in Buenos Aires. "We're not going to accept that any government tells us what photos we can publish."

The Venezuelan minister also urged Twitter to comment on the "barbarous and abominable" publication via its service. A Twitter account where the photos first appeared was suspended.

Venezuelan opposition leaders have been quick to condemn the murder and offer condolences, but are equally outraged at the Maduro government for pointing the finger at them.


Stirring passions further, minister Rodriguez repeated on Friday that the murder had "clear" political purposes. "We will not allow macabre, internal and external factors led by terrorists impose their violent agenda on our fatherland."

Serra, a lawyer, was one of the youngest members of the National Assembly and a pugnacious 'Chavista' or supporter of the left-wing political ideology of late leader Hugo Chavez.

Local media reports indicate police investigations have been focussing initially on his bodyguards.

The death has put a focus again on violent crime in Venezuela, which has one of the world's highest homicide rates.

The official murder rate last year was 39 per 100,000 people, though non-government organizations put the figure at nearly twice that for a total of 24,000 deaths.

In a mass of analyses and theories about Serra's death, Venezuela Analysis publication rapped foreign media for what it said was a "lack of interest, lack of concern" over him vis-a-vis last year's killing of soap-opera actress Monica Spear.

"The latter's (death) received global attention for weeks and generated an onslaught of criticism on Venezuela's crime statistics and government security policies. The former meanwhile has barely caused international media to raise an eyebrow," wrote Venezuela Analysis's Ewan Robertson.

"Is this because the murder of a former beauty queen is more important than that of a young left wing legislator? Or is it because the assassination of a pro-government deputy and the spectre of right-wing political violence are inconvenient to the prevailing narrative about Venezuela and its government?"

(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Nicolas Misculin in Buenos Aires; Editing by Toni Reinhold)