New York, June 3, 2008—Unidentified gunmen killed Pierre Fould Gerges, vice president of the Caracas daily Reporte Diario de la Economía, on Monday following dozens of death threats against the paper’s senior administrative staff over the last year. The Committee to Protect Journalists said today that Venezuelan authorities must conduct a thorough investigation and determine whether Gerges’ killing was linked to his newspaper’s work.
The killing occurred shortly after Gerges left the paper’s offices at 5:30 p.m. in a car owned by his brother Tannous Gerges, president of the daily, according to Venezuelan press reports. On his way to visit his mother, Gerges stopped at a gas station in the southeastern Caracas neighborhood of Chuao. Two unidentified individuals on a black motorcycle approached Gerges and shot him at least 12 times in the neck and torso, according to press reports. Caracas police said Gerges was pronounced dead at the scene.
Yisel Soares, a lawyer for Reporte Diario de la Economía, told CPJ that Pierre Gerges had not been directly threatened. But she said several senior staff members, including Tannous Gerges, had received telephone and e-mail death threats since June 2007. Among the 58 threats recorded by the daily, Soares said, one e-mail message carried the subject line “you will see when we take it up with your family,” according to the Caracas-based daily El Universal. Soares told CPJ the threats were not linked to a specific story but rather to the daily’s general editorial stance, which has been tough on government corruption.
Venezuelan authorities said they are conducting an investigation. Soares told CPJ that investigators have not publicly cited a motive but are looking into Gerges’ work as a possibility.
“We condemn the brutal murder of Pierre Fould Gerges and offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues,” said CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “The investigation into this attack must be thorough and timely, and it must determine whether Gerges was murdered in retaliation for the newspaper’s reporting.”
Deadly violence against the press is rare in Venezuela, according to CPJ research. Four journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work since 1992, the most recent in 2006. However, the local press has been subjected to repressive government measures, while reporters and photographers have been attacked during street protests.