Pro-government militants attack Venezuela’s Globovisión

New York, August 3, 2009–A group of more than 30 armed pro-government militants riding motorcycles stormed the premises of private broadcaster Globovisión today and  set off tear gas, local press reports said. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the attack and called on authorities to provide Globovisión and its staff members the necessary protection to ensure they can report the news without fear of reprisal. 

A Caracas police agent suffered minor injuries during the 1 p.m. attack, Globovisión reported. No station employee was reported injured, and no extensive damage to the station was reported. Venezuelan press reports said government supporters led by activist Lina Ron entered Globovisión’s premises in Caracas aboard motorcycles and disarmed security personnel before setting off tear gas. Some were carrying the flag of the pro-government political party Union Patriótica Venezolana (UPV), according to news reports.

Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami condemned the action and said the government would investigate.

“We are deeply concerned for the safety of Globovisión’s employees,” said CPJ Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “Venezuelan authorities must provide Globovisión and its staff with the necessary protection to ensure they can work freely without fear of reprisal.”

Globovisión, known for its harsh criticism of President Hugo Chávez Frías’ administration, has been the target of continued government harassment. In recent months, Venezuelan regulators have opened five administrative proceedings against the private broadcaster. The latest came on July 3, after the station aired an advertising campaign aimed at defending private property, which, according to local authorities, contained messages that could create “anguish, anxiety, and fear” and promote public disorder. The broadcaster’s license could eventually be revoked. Authorities have requested that the attorney general’s office determine whether the broadcaster is criminally liable for violating the telecommunications law.

In February, the pro-government group known as La Piedrita took responsibility for a September 2008 attack against Globovisión. Several unidentified individuals tossed tear gas canisters outside Globovisión’s offices. One canister went off, but no one was injured. The assailants left fliers, signed by La Piedrita, declaring the network a military target and saying it would be held responsible if anything happened to Chávez, according to a transcript published in the national daily El Nacional.

Today’s attack on Globovisión came just days after Venezuelan Minister of Housing and Public Works Diosdado Cabello announced that regulators had revoked the broadcast licenses of 34 private radio stations throughout the country. Though the stations said they would appeal the decision, all of them have gone of the air. Cabello said that more than 200 other stations could also have their licenses revoked. CPJ issued a statement on Saturday saying that government is using the regulation of broadcast licenses as a pretext to silence independent and critical voices