Freedom of expression groups alarmed by detentions of Venezuelan journalists

Arguing that journalists were making recordings in a “presidential corridor,” members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB for its acronym in Spanish) in Venezuela detained journalists Andreina Flores and Jorge Luis Pérez Valery, according to the Press and Society Institute of Venezuela (IPYS).

According to IPYS Venezuela, the detention of Flores – of Colombian media outlet RCN – and of Pérez Valery – of Red Más Noticias – took place on Aug. 18 in the vicinity of El Calvario, a park in the center of Caracas that is near the presidential palace.

Journalist Pérez Valery wrote on his Twitter account that the detention took place when they were “taking shots of emblematic sites” of Caracas. The reporter added that they were first held in place, but later were taken to a GNB post and later to a military complex. He explained, “I am not sure if we are “being held” or “detained.”

IPYS Venezuela added that, according to sources, the journalists were taken to the military complex to explain to a colonel of the GNB why they were recording in the “presidential corridor.”

The National Association of Press Workers (SNTP for its acronym in Spanish) was present at the military complex, according to IPYS. After four hours of being detained, the journalists were released, according to what SNTP published on its Twitter account.

Concerning the case, Ombudsman Tarik William Saab said his office was in contact with the Minister of Defense before the journalists were freed, according to El Nacional. According to the Ombudsman, the minister assured him that the journalists were in the complex "as interviewees."

The Ombudsman also expressed on his Twitter account that members of the office would be present to guarantee that the human rights of the journalists were respected and that they would take necessary defense actions.

In different events that also took place on Aug. 18, journalist Julio Mendoza of digital site El Pitazo was detained and beaten while covering an event led by opposition members in San Fernando de Apure, his employer reported.

According to the news site, the journalist was covering a Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD for its acronym in Spanish) event for promotion of the recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro. He and three other people identified as political leaders, as well as some minors, were detained, El Pitazo added.

According to a communications student present at the event, the incident occurred when the reporter recorded the detention of one of the political leaders and members of the police approached him to take away the cell phone he used to record the images, El Pitazo said.

After four hours of detention, he was released. The newspaper El Nacional reported that the journalist was handcuffed, assaulted and that his cellphone was broken.

SNTP announced on Twitter on Aug. 19 that they would denounce the aggressions against Mendoza “thanks to the support of the Criminal Forum,” a non-governmental organization assisting people who have been detained arbitrarily.

The National Association of Venezuelan Journalists (CNP for its acronym in Spanish) reported on Aug. 18 about other events in the state of Carabobo. Some journalists who were covering an official event known as Operation Liberation of the People were assaulted and some were detained, the organization said.

Journalists from media outlets Venevisión, Notitarde, El Carabobeño and La Calle were detained for more than 40 minutes by members of the GNB. According to CNP, they were “harassed while the audiovisual material they recorded was reviewed.” Their vehicles were also searched.

¨Deterioration of freedom of the press in Venezuela

These latest events are in addition to previous detentions, assaults, harassment of media workers and even destruction of journalistic materials and equipment.

According to IPYS Venezuela, 17 journalists, communicators and media workers have been detained so far in 2016 while carrying out their work.

The events occurred two weeks after the Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern about the “continuing erosion of media freedom in Venezuela.”

“We are deeply disturbed by the recent reports of attacks against journalists and independent media groups, escalating the pressure over the Venezuelan media. This is especially alarming given the country’s food and medicine shortages, economic crisis and heightened social and political tensions,” the Special Rapporteurs said.

They also warned about allegations of assaults, detentions, closure of newspapers, delays in the renewal of radio station licenses, among other problems. The Special Rapporteurs expressed these concerns in a letter to the Venezuelan government and asked for explanations.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.