More than 100 journalists face threats or injury covering Venezuela protests

May 8, 2017 1:37 PM ET

More than 100 journalists and media workers have been threatened, harassed, detained, injured, or otherwise obstructed from doing their work in Venezuela since mass protests erupted against the government of President Nicolás Maduro there at the beginning of April 2017, according to media reports, the affected journalists, and Venezuelan press freedom groups.

Venezuelan press freedom groups, including Espácio Público, the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), and the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP), have documented dozens of cases in which journalists have been threatened, harassed, or detained. Newspaper offices have been attacked. Venezuela's state telecommunications regulator ordered two international news channels off the air on April 19, according to the broadcasters, and other outlets have reported service interruptions.

April 19 protests

In April 19 nationwide mass protests, police and armed civilian groups threatened journalists across the country, according to media reports and press freedom groups.

IPYS recorded 18 instances in which journalists were threatened, harassed, or assaulted in the states of Bolívar, Monagas, Portuguesa, and Apure, as well as in Caracas, by 9:30 p.m. on April 19, the organization reported on Twitter. The following day, SNTP reported at least eight journalists had been threatened, assaulted, or robbed while covering protests.

Police in Maracay, roughly 125 kilometers (77 miles) west of the capital Caracas, prevented Gaby Aguilar, a journalist for El Pitazo TV, from reporting at the Palace of Justice, according to video posted on El Pitazo's Twitter acount.

Bolivarian National Guard officers detained freelance multimedia reporter Jorge Brito for five hours as he attempted to report on the April 19 protests in Venezuela's Caribbean island Margarita, according to media reports. The SNTP also reported that police in Anzoátegui state, roughly 385 kilometers (240 miles) from Caracas, detained Luis Patiño, a journalist with Unión Radio, for six hours as he attempted to report on protests there the same day.

Also on April 19, a group of masked individuals attacked the offices of the Nuevo Día newspaper in the northwestern cities of Coro and Punto Fijo, the newspaper reported. According to IPYS, 10 employees were at the Coro offices at the time.

When armed civilian groups prowled the streets of the central Venezuelan city of San Carlos that day, the radio station Class 987 decided to suspend programming to ensure the safety of its staff, according to reports.

Harassment and detention

On April 22, a group of civilians armed with sticks, knives, and pepper spray attacked María Alesia Sosa, a journalist for the international media outlet HispanoPost and news website Runrunes, while she reported live from a roadblock in Caracas. The incident was broadcast in a live Periscope video. In a video posted to Twitter immediately after the attack, the reporter had visible facial injuries, and her driver had a knife wound.

Also on April 22, Bolivarian National Police officers detained Rhobinson Rojas and his driver, William Rivero, while the two reported on protests in Caracas for the news website Caraota Digital, the journalist wrote on Twitter. The Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), Venezuela's domestic intelligence agency, detained the pair for roughly four hours, the journalist reported on Twitter.

The SNTP reported that 106 journalists had suffered some sort of obstruction or injury between March 31 and April 25. Of the 14 journalists and media workers the group reported detained during that period, seven were detained by the Bolivarian National Guard, three were detained by SEBIN, and four were detained by regional or local police.

Physical injuries

At least five reporters were injured by tear gas canisters covering protests in Caracas on April 26, according to IPYS. Ayatola Núñez, of El Nacional newspaper, was struck on the head by a tear gas canister, his employer reported. The journalist was taken to the hospital, where he received five stitches, according to his newspaper.

"He was covering the march when they began shooting tear gas. Because he was hit in the head, he doesn't know what happened, but the journalists with him said it was a tear gas canister," El Nacional editor Zayira Arenas told CPJ. She said Núñez planned to return to work in three weeks.

In an Instagram video recorded at the hospital, Núñez offered an update on his injury and apologized to his parents.

"I decided to be a journalist, and this is the risk I'm going to run," he said.

In a separate incident, Simon Rodríguez, a cameraman with CNN En Español, was burned on his legs by fireworks that protesters were using as makeshift weapons, according to the press freedom group La Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP).

IPYS reported that at least 14 reporters were injured by tear gas between April 6 and April 26.

A tear gas canister struck Reynaldo Riobueno, a journalist with Unión Radio, in the leg while he reported from protests in Caracas on May 3. The impact fractured his tibia, according to media reports.

Arenas, of El Nacional, said journalists were taking precautions to avoid injury.

"Most journalists now are using helmets, going to protests with gas masks, and their driver is always with them," she told CPJ, adding that journalists were trying to stay in groups so they could assist each other if necessary. Still, these precautions were often insufficient, she said.

Extended detention

Several journalists and media workers have been detained for extended periods of time. Two reporters with French news agency CAPA were detained by Venezuela police on April 11 and held on unspecified charges, according to news reports. The two were released and returned to France on April 20.

A four-person news crew reporting for the online news platform VivoPlay TV was detained by armed civilians while covering a protest on May 1 and turned over to Bolivarian National Guard troops, VivoPlay's lawyer, José Ramón Medina, told CPJ. The two journalists, Maryuri Andreina González and Guido Villamizar González, were released a few hours later, but their drivers and production assistants, Marcos Vergara and Deivis Valera, remained in custody at time of publication, according to reports.

Censorship

Broadcasters also continue to face restrictions and interference. Venezuela's state telecommunications regulator Conatel on April 19 ordered satellite provider DirecTV to take two international news channels, Colombia's El Tiempo TV and Argentina's Todo Noticias TV, off the air indefinitely, according to the broadcasters. The following night, the signal of Antena 3, a Spanish channel, was interrupted for several hours, according to reports.

CPJ on April 12 called on Venezuelan officials to ensure that journalists can safely cover protests. In response to the unrest, CPJ has also issued a set of recommendations to journalists reporting on the protests. The safety advisory is available in English and Spanish.

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