Miami, March 15, 2019 — Venezuelan authorities should conduct an urgent and thorough investigation into the violent assault of reporter Tomasz Surdel, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, Surdel, the Venezuela correspondent for Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, was driving through the Bello Monte district in Caracas when a group of armed men stopped his car, checked his identification, and proceeded to assault him, according to his employer and social media posts by local press freedom groups.
“We are alarmed at the depth and pace of increasing violence and hostility to journalists working in Venezuela, and are gravely concerned about their safety,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Venezuelan authorities should immediately investigate the targeted assault on Tomasz Surdel and identify those responsible.”
Armed men in black uniforms stopped Surdel’s car, asked for his identification documents, and then spoke on the radio with an unknown third party, Gazeta Wyborcza foreign desk head Bartosz Wielinski, who spoke with Surdel, told CPJ.
After the radio communication, the men asked Surdel to exit the car, placed a hood on his head, and proceeded to beat him in his face and ribs, Wielinski told CPJ. They then pointed a pistol into Surdel’s face and pulled the trigger–revealing that it was not loaded–before leaving him lying in the street, Surdel told the Venezuelan Press Workers’ Union, the country’s media union.
Surdel’s face was swollen and he could hardly speak after the attack, but he did not experience any broken bones, according to Wielinski and Gazeta Wyborcza.
Wielinski told CPJ that Gazeta Wyborcza‘s reporting on Venezuela has been highly critical of the Maduro government and that the newspaper has received complaints about its coverage from the Venezuelan embassy in Warsaw.
A press release from Gazeta Wyborcza described the attackers as members of the Venezuelan National Police’s Special Action Forces, a commando unit of the police force. Gazeta Wyborcza did not provide any information to support this claim, and it could not be independently verified by CPJ.
CPJ’s calls to the Venezuelan prosecutor’s office, which is in charge of investigating crimes in the country, went unanswered.
Local and international journalists covering the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela have faced threats, harassment, and violence at the hands of multiple groups, including state security forces, protesters, and armed civilians, CPJ has documented.