Controversy grows after assault in Venezuela

On August 15, Caracas authorities arrested Gabriel Uzcátegui in connection with a violent attack against a dozen local journalists who were protesting an education bill that critics fear will restrict press freedom in Venezuela. Uzcátegui is an employee of the government-owned broadcaster AvilaTV, the national daily EL Nacional reported.

The court ordered the arrest of two more unidentified suspects days later, according to the daily El Tiempo.

Alleged government supporters attacked the journalists, who work for different outlets owned by the private media conglomerate Cadena Capriles in Central Caracas on August 14.

The journalists were demonstrating against provisions in the bill that would forbid the distribution of content that could cause “terror in children,” incite “hate, aggressiveness” or “unruliness,” “deform language,” or “threaten the mental or physical health of the people,” among other things. Men surrounded the reporters, called them “oligarchs” and “enemies of the people,” and beat them. They suffered several injuries and had to be taken to local hospitals for medical treatment. After, they told colleagues that their attackers work for AvilaTV.

The Venezuelan government initially issued a statement condemning the assault. However, after AvilaTV denied any of its employees had been involved, several officials accused the Cadenal Capriles reporters of lying.

During an interview with the official VTV, President Hugo Chávez said the injured reporters “were not working as journalists, they were participating in a march with T-shirts and leaflets as part of their acts of proselytism against the education law. And as far as I know, and there is proof, they were provoking people.” The reporters quickly denied the claims and several local journalist organizations responded with statements that asked Chávez to tone down heated commentary that could spark violence against the press.