Alerts   |   Venezuela

Protesting journalists attacked in Caracas

Ultimas NoticiasNew York, August 14, 2009--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a violent assault by suspected government supporters on a dozen journalists in Venezuela on Thursday. The journalists were protesting an education bill that would restrict press freedom. 

Alleged government supporters hit and kicked the journalists, according to international news reports. At 2 p.m., several journalists from the Caracas-based dailies Últimas Noticias, El Mundo and Diario Líder, owned by the private media conglomerate Cadena Capriles, walked to Urdaneta Avenue in central Caracas to protest the bill, which has provisions journalists think could restrict freedom of expression, according to The Associated Press.

The journalists were holding banners and handing out leaflets warning against provisions in the bill that prohibit the distribution of content that could cause, among other things, "terror in children," incite "hate, aggressiveness" or "unruliness," "deform language," or "threaten the mental or physical health of the people." They were surrounded by the suspected government supporters, who accused them of being "oligarchs" and "enemies of the people," according to CPJ interviews with local journalists. Últimas Noticias Editor Eleazar Díaz Rangel told CPJ that the journalists were wearing press credentials. According to local news reports, the attackers work for the government-owned broadcaster AvilaTV.

"We are shocked by the vicious attack on journalists who were exercising their right to protest provisions of a bill that could impact their ability to report freely," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's Americas senior program coordinator. "This is not the first time journalists have been attacked by pro-government supporters. Venezuelan authorities must do everything in their power to put an immediate end to these attacks on the press."

No one was critically injured but at least 12 of the Cadena Capriles journalists were taken to local hospitals: Últimas Noticas reporters Marcos Ruiz, Fernando Peñalver, César Batiz, Usbaldo Arrieta and María E. Rondón; Octavio Hernández and Manuel Alejandro Álvarez from Diario Líder; Jesús Hurtado from El Mundo; and Gabriela Iribarren, Greasi Bolaños, Glexis Pastran, and Sergio Moreno.

The Venezuelan government issued a statement on Thursday condemning the attack, and local authorities said they are investigating the incident.

The National Assembly approved the education bill today, AP reported.

On July 30, Venezuela's Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz introduced a different bill that punishes "press crimes" with prison terms. The legislation, which would represent a serious setback for the Venezuelan democracy, has been shelved by the National Assembly.

On August 3, a group of more than 30 armed pro-government militants stormed the premises of private broadcaster Globovisión, setting off tear gas and injuring a Caracas police officer and two Globovisión employees. The following day, local authorities arrested pro-government activist Lina Ron in connection with the attack.

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