A soldier speaks is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 1, 2020. Authorities recently arrested journalist Carol Romero while she was covering protests against gas shortages. (AP/Ariana Cubillos)

Venezuelan journalist Carol Romero arrested while reporting on gasoline protests

Miami, June 11, 2020 – Venezuelan authorities should immediately drop all charges against journalist Carol Romero, and allow the press to cover protests without fear of arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 6 a.m. on June 4, Bolivarian National Guard officers detained Romero, a reporter for the privately owned radio station FM Stereo, while she was covering a protest against gasoline shortages in the El Junquito neighborhood of Caracas, according to reports from the local press freedom organizations Espacio Público and the Institute of Press and Society.

National Guard officers hit Romero and threw her to the ground when they detained her, according to those reports, which did not specify whether she was injured. The National Guard then held Romero incommunicado for more than 12 hours, without disclosing her location to her family or lawyers, according to Espacio Público.

On June 5, Romero was presented before the Second Court of Municipal Control of the Libertador municipality, in Caracas, where she was charged with injuring an official for allegedly assaulting the National Guard officers who detained her, according to Espacio Público and Edgar Cárdenas, secretary general of the Caracas division of the National Union of Journalists, a local trade organization, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

Romero was then released, but was placed under a gag order, barring her from discussing her case with the media, Cárdenas told CPJ. If convicted of injuring an official, she could face up to one year in prison according to the Venezuelan Penal Code.

 “Venezuelan authorities must drop the phony charges against journalist Carol Romero, and allow reporters to cover protests and other issues of public interest freely,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Detaining and harassing journalists will not hide the social and economic problems that those journalists are covering.”

Also on June 5, agents from the National Guard and from Venezuela’s counterintelligence military service briefly detained four members of a reporting team from the privately owned digital outlet VPI TV, including a reporter and a camera operator, while they were interviewing people at a gas station in Caracas, according to news reports.

Authorities have recently detained or harassed at least 14 journalists in relation to their coverage of fuel shortages, according to Espacio Público. This includes the case of Eduardo Galindo, who was detained in April, held for two weeks, and is being criminally prosecuted over his reporting, as CPJ documented at the time.

CPJ called the Bolivarian National Guard for comment, but no one answered the phone.