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

Watchdogs register several attacks on journalists in Venezuela

Reporters endured assaults, arrests during recent protests roiling the country

Opposition demonstrators block the city's main highway during a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas on Feb. 14, 2014. A number of journalists have been arrested and attacked during protests taking place across the country this past week, according to human rights organizations. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By: Vanessa I. Garnica

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VIENNA, Feb 19 2014 - At least 27 different violations against journalists covering demonstrations have been recorded by press freedom and human rights groups in Venezuela, as marches continued across the country today. 

The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed concern about the recent physical attacks on journalists and the confiscation of their equipment.

“IPI condemns any violence against members of the press in Venezuela and demands a swift investigation into the cases where journalists were targeted, as these incidents represent a clear violation on press freedom,” IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said.

Rallies against Nicolás Maduro’s government have drawn thousands of people to protest policies that are blamed for devaluing the country’s currency and limiting access to basic goods. The government is also under fire because of high crime, making the capital Caracas one of the most dangerous in the world. According to daily El Comercio, more than 24,000 murders were reported in the country in 2013. 

A week of protests has left three people dead, hundreds injured, and more than 100 were arrested.

On Feb. 12, three reporters were arrested - Ángel Matute, Domingo Díaz, and Ariadna Bueno Avellaneda - while filming attacks on unarmed civilians by government forces. They were released two days later but were prohibited from attending or covering any other marches, according to Gonzalo Himiob, from the human rights watch group Foro Penal Venezolano.

Also on Feb. 12, two independent photojournalists, Juan Camacho and Lewis Diaz, were assaulted and stripped of their camera equipment by members of the government’s Scientific Investigative and Criminalist Body (Cuerpo Investigaciones Científicas Penales y Criminalisticas - CICPC). Camacho told IPYS that his camera was returned and thrown on the floor by a member of CICPC three hours later with the memory card missing.

The Press and Society Institute, Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), said the arrests of the journalists constitute a violation of Articles 57 and 58 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which declare citizens have the right to work and the right to be informed.

One reporter for Agence France-Presse (AFP), Mariana Cadenas, was assaulted and her camera was taken away by a young man wearing red (the colour worn by government sympathisers) after trying to leave the protest on Feb. 12. Her AFP colleague, Patricia Clarembaux, attempted to report the assault to army officers. They told her that their duty was to maintain order during protests and not address her complaint, the press freedom group Espacio Público reported.

In addition to physical attacks, censorship of social media sites such as Twitter was reported on Feb. 14 by customers of the state-run CANTV, who make up 80 percent of internet users in Venezuela. Twitter officials confirmed that their site was partially blocked last week in Venezuela.

There were also reports regarding the attacks on the offices of CONATEL, the government agency in charge of regulating broadcast media in Venezuela, and on Venezolana de Televisión, a government-run news channel. Both attacks took place on Feb. 12.

William Castillo, CONATEL director, Opens external link in new windowinformed the news media on Feb. 11 that broadcasting images of violence during the marches taking place around the country could constitute a violation of Article 27 of the social responsibility in radio, television and electronic media law, which prohibits the dissemination of content that may affect public peace and/or promote hate and violence.

As a result, Colombian-owned news channel NTN24, with offices in Venezuela, said in a Opens external link in new windowstatement that its signal was temporarily disrupted by CONATEL.

On Feb. 17, the National Journalist School of Caracas (Colegio Nacional de Periodistas-Caracas, or CNP), which defends press freedom rights nationwide, condemned attacks on reporters, stating that CNP “will defend all of the journalists without distinguishing their political leaning or publication.”

The Univision correspondent in Venezuela, Francisco Urreiztieta, reported today on his Twitter account that armed men seized the equipment of a CNN International news team during a Feb. 18 march along Avenida Francisco Fajardo in Caracas.

For more information, please contact Opens window for sending emailVanessa I. Garnica, +43 5129011, ext. 15.