Security forces look on during clashes at a rally in Venezuela on January 24. Amid the political crisis and widespread protests, Venezuelan authorities have raided news outlets, detained journalists and confiscated equipment. (Reuters/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez)

Raids, media shutdowns and internet disruptions amid Venezuela crisis

January 25, 2019 2:21 PM ET

Miami, January 25, 2019--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Venezuelan authorities to stop blocking news outlets and to ensure that access to the internet is available amid the country's political crisis and widespread protests.

Venezuelan authorities on January 23 raided at least three newsrooms in southern Venezuela, took at least one television outlet off air, detained two reporters, confiscated reporting equipment, and forced members of the press to delete their material, according to local journalists and local press freedom organizations. Access to the internet was also disrupted, according to internet freedom and governance organization NetBlocks.

The crackdown came amid a series of widespread protests against the government of Nicolás Maduro, and a political crisis that deepened after Juán Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president of the country in defiance of the Maduro administration.

"The people of Venezuela have the right to share and access news, which is especially vital in times of social unrest," said CPJ Central and South America Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. "Venezuelan authorities must stop blocking the free flow of information and retaliating against media outlets."

During the protests, National Guard agents in the southern state of Zulia briefly detained and hit photographer Alberto Briceño and took away his credentials and camera, according to local press freedom organizations. Military officers attacked reporter Jackson Sans, who was covering the death of a protester in Amazonas state, and took away his phone, according to the same press freedom groups. The reports did not specify further details about the attack. The National Guard briefly detained journalist Marcos Morín Aguirre in Caracas and confiscated his camera's memory card, according to a journalist from the news outlet LaFM. And José Ignacio Moreno from Unión Radio said in a tweet that he was injured after being hit with a blunt object while covering a protest in Maracay.

CPJ called the National Guard for comment today and was referred to its customer service number. When CPJ tried that department, nobody answered the call. CPJ called the Prosecutor's Office for comment yesterday but no one answered the call.

By 9 p.m. on January 23, the local television station GLOBAL TV, which broadcasts from Zulia, had been forced off the air, the owner, Guido Briceno García, told CPJ. Briceno, who owns and manages the outlet along with his father, said that around 30 agents, some armed, arrived at the place where the transmitter operates earlier that evening and forcibly shut it down. They showed no written order, but left behind papers identifying themselves as agents from "DIGESIM" [sic], the country's military counter-intelligence services, Briceno said. They also confiscated and damaged equipment, as seen in pictures made available to CPJ. As of today the station was still off air.

Briceno said that threats made against the station and other information they received earlier that day led them believe the action was in retaliation for the station broadcasting Guaidó's speech live. According to the local media watchdogs Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad--Venezuela, none of the national television stations broadcast the speech.

Noticia Al Día, a news website in the same state of Zulia, announced on Twitter that counter-intelligence agents raided its office and also targeted the outlet Aventura TV. Video of the offices of Noticia Al Día posted on Instagram by reporter Lenin Danieri showed the place ransacked, with damage to the property and equipment. The free speech organization Espacio Publico also reported that the two stations had been raided.

The internet freedom group NetBlocks reported that it had detected "major internet disruptions in Venezuela affecting YouTube, Google Search ..." and that "social media services [were] notably disrupted."

CPJ last week joined more than 30 regional and international rights organizations expressing concern about a proposed 'Cyberspace Law' in Venezuela that would expand the powers of the government to control and monitor internet use without institutional checks.

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