Category: Press Releases, Americas & Caribbean, The Americas, Venezuela
By: Vanessa I. Garnica

Amid protests, IPI urges Venezuela’s government to end media pressure

Group joins worldwide campaign calling for freer flow of information

A motorcycle drives past an old television set which was burnt in a barricade set up by anti-government protesters in San Cristobal, some 410 miles (660 km) southwest from Caracas February 21, 2014. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro threatened on Thursday to expel television network CNN from the country if it did not "rectify" the way it has covered deadly political protests. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

By: Vanessa I. Garnica

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VIENNA, Feb 28, 2014 – Venezuela’s government must put a stop to threats made against the media in recent weeks and allow information to flow freely without censorship, the International Press Institute (IPI) said yesterday, joining an international campaign.

IPI made the call in a letter sent to Venezuela’s ambassador to Austria, adding its voice to a number of human rights and press freedom organisations around the globe that sent similar letters to the Venezuelan ambassadors in their respective countries.

Clashes between pro-government forces, including armed troops, and unarmed civilians continue in major cities around Venezuela after two weeks of protests that have claimed the lives of at least 15 people and injured 150.

IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said: “The attacks against journalists in Venezuela over the past few weeks represent the most recent attempt to suppress free speech in a country where the government has gone to great lengths to control the free flow of information. The government must immediately stop harassing the media and send a strong signal that violence against journalists will not be tolerated.”

As of today, Venezuelan daily El Nacional said it had received 40 reports of alleged cases of torture of individuals arrested. The newspaper reported that 609 people – including six journalists –have been arrested during 13 days of protests in the country.

Last Friday, a team of journalists and producers working for CNN En Español left Venezuela after President Nicolás Maduro announced on national television that he would begin the process of taking them off the air.

The network explained in a statement posted on their website last Friday: “CNN en Español has reported both sides of the tense situation that Venezuela is currently experiencing, even with limited access to government officials. And as of Feb. 20, Patricia Janiot, senior anchor at CNN, was in the process of receiving permission to interview President Maduro.”

Last week, German news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW)’s correspondent in Venezuela, Marc Koch, reported that he was prevented from entering a public university in Caracas by members of the Venezuelan Army, despite having shown them his credentials to work as a journalist in the country.

“There are instances [by the Venezuelan government] of controlling the media,” Koch said during an interview with a DW colleague aired last weekend.

Tim Pool, a reporter and producer for HBO’s investigative news show VICE, wrote on his Twitter account on Saturday that he had left the country after receiving numerous “death threats”. He also said that his friends were being threatened as the result of his coverage in Venezuela and that their social media accounts have been hacked. Government sympathiser and TV personality Mario Silva Garcia called Pool “a media mercenary” in a post on Twitter and accused the journalist of having gone to Venezuela to destabilize the country and support the “guarimbas”, a term used to describe violent opposition groups.

Juan Pablo Bieri, a Colombian reporter for the news network Tiempo de Colombia, said he was attacked on Feb. 14 when he and his cameraman were covering a night protest in the capital of Caracas. Bieri told El Nacional this week that members of the National Guard repeatedly beat both him and his cameraman, even though the pair told their attackers that they were journalists and had their equipment and credentials on them at the time of the attack.

Bieri said they were thrown into a detention truck along with unarmed protesters who were also beaten in front of the reporters. He said they were held for about an hour and a half but feared for their lives as the situation got extremely tense. Members of the National Guard took their passports and made photocopies, Bieri said. When the passports were returned, he recounted, one soldier told him: “Juan Pablo, we have identified you and if anything happens we can locate you in Bogota [Colombia].”

 International reporter Gianfranco Di Giacomantonio of Italian news site Abruzzo was detained in the state of Aragua on Monday after attempting to cover clashes between local police officers and protesters. On Wednesday, the reporter told his news outlet in Italy via telephone that he was held incommunicado for 12 hours. The journalist added that police officers asked him, before taking him into custody, to show them what he had filmed in order to make sure that it would not generate terror or entice violence.

Espacio Público, a human rights and press freedom group based in Venezuela, reported on Wednesday that Venezolana de Television censored questions from local reporter Andreína Flores during a press conference by Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuela’s National Assembly. The reporter queried Cabello over a message posted by Francisco Ameliach, the governor of Carabobo state, on Twitter in which Ameliach called on Socialist party followers “to get ready for the explosive counterattack”, adding: “Diosdado will give the orders.”

Flores asked Cabello what the message meant and how the government could disassociate itself from violence if local government representatives were making that type of call inciting violence. According to Flores, Cabello addressed her question during the press conference, but it was not aired on the government-run channel, one of the few news stations in the country.

For more information, contact Vanessa I. Garnica at +43 15129011.