Chilean journalists injured, detained during student strike

New York, May 31, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Tuesday’s attacks by local police against six Chilean reporters covering clashes between security forces and high school students during a massive strike demanding reforms in Chile’s education laws.

Nearly 600,000 high school students protested in Chile’s capital, Santiago, calling for a reduction in public transportation fares and government intervention to reduce inequities between rich and poor schools, the local press reported.

As hundreds of students tried to march to the city center around noon, masked protesters hurled rocks and security forces responded with water hoses and tear gas, according to local and international news reports.

Six reporters were injured or detained while covering the confrontation between police and demonstrators, according to CPJ research. In all, about 400 students were detained and 14 injured, according to press reports.

Marcos Cabrera, a cameraman for the Santiago television station RedTV, Fernando Fiedler, a photographer for the Santiago daily Diario Financiero, and Livio Saavedra, a cameraman for the Concepción-based Canal 9 Regional de TV, were assaulted by police.

Fiedler told CPJ that a police agent hit him in the face with a shield, breaking his nose. Cabrera was also struck in the face, suffering cuts, press reports said. Saavedra, who said he filmed the assaults, told CPJ that police officers struck him repeatedly, knocked him down, and kicked him. Saavedra told CPJ that he has cuts and bruises all over his body and suffered blows to the head.

Julio Oliva, editor of the Santiago-based weekly El Siglo, and two of his reporters, Iván Valdés and Marcos Díaz, were detained later in the day while trying to help a protester who had been hit by a car, the editor told CPJ. Oliva said that police agents punched them and shoved them into a truck with other protesters when the reporters showed their press credentials. Oliva told CPJ that the journalists were taken to a local police station and held for three hours before being released without charge.

The Chilean government spoke out against the attacks this morning, calling them “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable,” according to local press reports. President Michelle Bachelet said that press freedom would be respected in Chile, adding that she had ordered an investigation into the attacks. The chief of police special forces responsible for the attacks was fired.