New York, April 12, 2002—Venezuelan journalist Jorge Tortoza died last night after being shot in the head while covering the violent clashes in the capital, Caracas, that forced Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías to resign this morning, CPJ has confirmed.
Eurídice Ledezma, a Venezuelan journalist and political analyst, told CPJ that Tortoza was shot by a military sniper she saw firing from the roof of City Hall in downtown Caracas.
Meanwhile, as Chávez was struggling to hold on to power yesterday afternoon, the government forced all private TV stations off the air. The stations have since resumed broadcasting. But government-run Venezolana de Televisión, the only station allowed on the air yesterday, is not broadcasting today, according to CPJ sources.
Three other journalists were injured while reporting on the massive protests. Jonathan Freitas, a photographer with the newspaper TalCual, was shot in the arm. He told CPJ that the bullet passed through his arm and lodged in his cellular phone. Freitas was treated in a local hospital and then returned to work.
Enrique Hernández, a photographer with the state news agency Venpres, was injured by a bullet that grazed his abdomen and was later hit in the head with a stone. He was treated for minor injuries and has returned to work.
Luis Enrique Hernández, brother of Enrique Hernández and journalist with a local paper, was hit with two bullets, one in the stomach and one in the kidney. He underwent surgery for his wounds and is currently recovering in the José María Vargas Hospital, according to Angel Corao, Venpres’ editor of photography.
Police later used tear gas to disperse the crowds, according to press reports.
“CPJ is outraged by the senseless death of Jorge Tortoza and the attacks on our colleagues. We demand a thorough and timely inquiry into these incidents,” said executive director Ann Cooper. “Eyewitness reports that a military sniper carried out the shooting warrant full investigation.”
Government blocked independent TV coverage of clashes
At around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, the government pre-empted broadcasts from the local television stations Televén, Venevisión, Globovisión, and Radio Caracas Televisión for a message from then-president Chávez.
After the stations decided to split the screen in two and show their coverage of the national strike alongside Chávez’s address, the government shut them down altogether.
President Chávez justified the station takeovers by claiming that television frequencies are the property of the state. He accused local broadcasters of conspiring to overthrow his government.
Later in the afternoon, Globovisión’s offices were surrounded by state security officers from the Dirección de Servicios de Inteligencia Policial (Disip), and the station’s signal could only be received via satellite.
Sources at Venevisión told CPJ that they were able to resume broadcasting at around 5:45 p.m. The same sources said that Televén’s offices had been surrounded by the Venezuelan National Guard.
Chávez vs. press
Although Chávez has historically had tense relations with the independent Venezuelan press, the confrontation worsened after April 9. In the days leading up to Chávez’s resignation, authorities repeatedly pre-empted broadcasts by private TV channels in an effort to block critical coverage of a national strike called by labor and business groups.
After his resignation, Chávez turned himself over to the military, which has appointed Pedro Carmona, president of Fedecámaras, the country’s most powerful business group, to head the transitional government, according to news reports.