Bogotá, Colombia, May 2, 2017--Venezuelan authorities should immediately release Marcos Vergara and Deivis Valera, production assistants for the online media platform VivoPlay, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The two were taken into the custody of the Venezuelan National Guard while covering a protest last night, according to their lawyer.
"Journalists cannot do their jobs without the essential work of their support staff, who sometimes face the brunt of government reprisal," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said from New York. "It is outrageous for Venezuelan authorities to subject Marcos Vergara and Deivis Valera to this unjust detention. We call for their immediate release."
José Ramón Medina, a lawyer for VivoPlay, said armed civilians, some wearing masks, detained Vergara, Valera, and VivoPlay journalists Maryuri Andreina González and Guido Villamizar González as the reporting team covered protests against President Nicolás Maduro at around 8 p.m. last night. The civilians turned the four over to soldiers from the National Guard, who took them to Fort Tiuna, one of Caracas' largest military bases.
Soldiers released the journalists shortly before midnight, Medina said. Vergara and Valera, who work as production assistants and as motorcycle drivers for the journalists, remain in custody, he said.
More than two dozen people have been killed in clashes between protesters and government security forces since mass protests erupted weeks ago, according to press reports. Journalists covering the unrest have been harassed and arrested, CPJ reported on April 12.
Medina told CPJ that Vergara and Valera were transferred to the government's criminalistics center in Caracas today, where he expects they will be fingerprinted and brought before a court to face as yet unspecified criminal charges. Medina said he briefly saw the two detainees early today but was not allowed to speak with them.
"It's very irregular that two drivers transporting journalists are detained," Medina told CPJ. "We are trying to get them released."
VivoPlay provides subscribers with independent news coverage and streams programs by journalists and comedians who are often critical of the Maduro government. The government has blocked access to VivoPlay's website since April 7, according to press reports. Medina said VivoPlay is still available in Venezuela via mobile phone applications.