Miami, January 16, 2020—Chilean authorities should immediately investigate an attack on the daily newspaper El Mercurio de Antofagasta and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Masked men broke into the newspaper’s headquarters in Antofagasta, a city in northern Chile, on January 13, damaging several offices, stealing equipment, and setting several fires, according to an El Mercurio de Antofagasta journalist who spoke with CPJ, and news reports.
Local press reported that at around the time of the attack a protest passed in front of the paper’s headquarters. The outlet’s general manager, Carlos Rodríguez, told Radio Cooperativa on January 13 there was no sign of the protest outside during the attack. He added that he believes the attack was orchestrated against El Mercurio.
It is the third attack in less than three months against the El Mercurio media conglomerate. CPJ previously documented an October 19 attack against El Mercurio de Valparaíso in Valparaíso and a November 26, 2019 attack against the headquarters of El Líder in San Antonio. Journalists at those outlets told CPJ at the time they believed they may have been attacked because of their editorial stance.
Constanza Caldera, a journalist who was in the El Mercurio offices at the time of the January 13 incident, said it was not clear if the attack had been planned.
Protests started in Chile in October over a raise in subway fares in the capital, according to news reports. President Sebastián Piñera reversed the measure days later, but protests continued.
Caldera told CPJ yesterday that since protests began, demonstrators have attacked the outlet, including by throwing stones, breaking windows, equipment and cameras, and setting fire to the entrance door. Caldera said that anonymous accounts on social media sent messages threatening to set the paper on fire.
“It is alarming that a third violent attack has been carried out against the El Mercurio group,” CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick said from New York. “Authorities must take swift action to bring those responsible for the attack on El Mercurio de Antofagasta to justice, to send an unequivocal message: attacking the press is never justified.”
During the attack, which took place around 8 p.m., around 20 employees had to take cover and try to put out the fires, according to press reports. Caldera told CPJ the attack lasted around 15 minutes and caused panic, especially when fires were set.
The Chilean police is investigating the attack, according to press reports. The Chilean Investigative Police did not answer a phone call from CPJ seeking comment.
A statement from the National Press Association, an independent association of Chilean media outlets, said that attacks on the press like the one on El Mercurio de Antofagasta have been “clearly organized” and “seek to silence the press.”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been updated to correct the spelling of Constanza Caldera’s name.]