German journalist detained in Venezuela since November starts new hunger strike in prison

*This entry was updated at 19:21 on 02/06/2019 to include comments from the organization Espacio Público.

German journalist Billy Six, imprisoned in Venezuela since mid-November, began a new hunger strike on Feb. 3 and "demands his immediate release," according to the Venezuelan organization Espacio Público.

Andrea Garrido, coordinator of the organization for the promotion and defense of freedom of expression and the right to information in Venezuela, told the Knight Center that they are in direct contact with Six's parents who informed them about the journalist’s new hunger strike.

“Billy is held in an individual cell, with access to a toilet for his use; he has minimal comforts and is affected by defects in water service that affect El Helicoide [prison],” Garrido said about the conditions of the journalist in prison. He was also in normal health until Feb. 3, the start of the second hunger strike, she said.

Six has been in custody since Nov. 17, as BBC News World reported at the time. He was detained by agents of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence in Santa Cruz de Los Taques, a coastal town about 310 miles west of Caracas.

The journalist was taken to the Helicoide prison in the center of the Venezuelan capital, home of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin, for its initials in Spanish).

On Dec. 13, Six began a hunger strike to demand that he be allowed to communicate with his family, with the German Embassy in Caracas and with a lawyer he trusted, the organization said.

On Dec. 14, the Embassy was able to reach him on the telephone for the first time since his detention, German news agency DW reported.

Since then, representatives of the embassy have communicated with him at least once more by telephone and "have seen him once on a consular visit," Garrido said.

According to an article from Espacio Público, the journalist continued without food until Dec. 22, when he allegedly suspended his protest pending a diplomatic solution to his release.

Carlos Correa, director of the organization, told El País in December that Six "entered Venezuela from the Colombian city of Cúcuta, made several reports, among them a rally with Maduro. It was there that he took photographs very close to the leader and for that reason they accuse him of violating security perimeters.”

He is accused of espionage, breach of security zones and rebellion and he will be tried in a military court, El País reported.

If convicted, Six can be sentenced to up to 28 years in prison, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.

“The Venezuelan authorities must immediately publish the charges against this journalist and release him, so that he can prepare his defense,” Emmanuel Colombié, head of RSF’s Latin America bureau, said in December. “It is also inconceivable that a civilian should be subjected to a military prosecution in Venezuela. This is a grave violation of both Venezuela’s own laws and its international obligations. A journalist has no place being tried before a military court.”

“We are providing legal assistance to Billy, representing him before international instances with the consent of his relatives. Currently in the process of being sworn in to formally assist him in Venezuela,” the Espacio Público coordinator said. “We assume that, for the moment and until manage to be sworn in, he has an assigned public defender who must have represented him in his presentation hearing.”

According to DW, Six writes for right-wing German outlets Junge Freiheit and Deutschland-Magazin and was in Venezuela covering the country's economic, political and social crisis.

The journalist, who according to El Pais calls himself the "Indiana Jones of journalism" on his YouTube channel because of his coverage in conflict countries, was detained for 12 weeks in Syria for entering the country illegally, DW said.

Six was one of three journalists imprisoned in Venezuela in December 2018, making it the Latin American country with the most media professionals jailed for doing their jobs as of the end of last year, according to the annual report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In addition, there are Venezuelans Jesús Medina Ezaine, detained in the Ramo Verde military prison since August 2018, and Braulio Jatar, who has been under house arrest since May 2017.

Six’s latest hunger strike also comes just after the detentions of at least 10 international journalists over the course of two weeks at the end of January.

The Knight Center contacted the German Embassy in Venezuela, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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