A street in Altagracia de Orituco, Venezuela, as seen on November 26, 2015. Journalist Jamel Louka was shot in the town during what he described as a botched kidnapping attempt. (AFP/Federico Parra)

Venezuelan journalist Jamel Louka shot, injured in attack

Bogotá, Colombia, December 4, 2020 – Venezuelan authorities should immediately investigate the shooting attack against journalist Jamel Louka and ensure the safety of Louka and his family, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On December 2 in the town of Altagracia de Orituco in central Guárico state, armed assailants shot Louka, a reporter and photographer with the privately owned Diario La Antena and a contributor to independent news website El Pitazo, in his left arm as he was fleeing what he described as a botched kidnapping attempt outside his home, according to news reports and Louka, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. 

Louka said he did not know the motive for the attack but said he is often criticized by local government officials for his reports on shortages of food, water, medicine, and electricity amid Venezuela’s economic crisis. “All of my stories are controversial,” he told CPJ.

“The alarming attack on Jamel Louka shows that critical Venezuelan journalists are not even safe at their own homes,” said CPJ’s Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Authorities in Guárico state must immediately investigate this attack, ensure that those responsible face justice, and take the necessary measures to guarantee the safety of Louka and his family.”

Louka told CPJ that two unidentified people came looking for him at his apartment on December 1 but, upon learning he was not at home, warned his wife and son that the journalist “should stop sticking his nose into places it doesn’t belong.” He said also received several threatening voice messages on his cell phone the night before the attack. CPJ reviewed two of the messages. In one, a man’s voice can be heard saying the journalist “must be targeted in the head without pity.” In the other, a man’s voice says that “thanks to [Louka] a lot of people in Altagracia have gotten into trouble.” 

Louka told CPJ that he decided to flee Altagracia de Orituco with his wife and son before dawn on December 2. As they were departing via car, Louka said the vehicle was surrounded by three armed men and a woman who forced him out of his car and tried to push him into another vehicle. “They were trying to kidnap me,” he told CPJ. 

In the struggle, Louka said he broke free and that the four attackers responded by throwing a grenade and firing at him with a pistol and a shotgun. He said he was hit by a bullet in his left arm and said shotgun pellets struck the area of his abdomen but did not injure him because he was wearing a protective vest. He said he was treated at a hospital in Altagracia de Orituco for the gunshot wound and was released after several hours. 

In 2016, Louka escaped unharmed when armed assailants shot at his vehicle, according to a report by the Venezuela Institute of Press and Society. 

CPJ’s calls to the investigative police unit in Guárico state were not answered.