Growing criticism over the detention of journalists in Venezuela

The detention of three Venezuelan reporters on Nov. 2 by the Military Police, which lasted over seven hours, continues to generate outrage among the media community after it was discovered that the government had summoned the journalists to the conference where they were detained.

The criticism focuses on the charges against the journalists for trespassing a secured zone, even though the Ministry of Defense had invited the journalists to cover a Christmas Fair inside the area, informed newspaper El Universal. Photojournalist Jorge Santos and journalists Eliscart Ramos and Dayana Escalona from the newspaper Diario 2001 were detained while covering the event.

According to Santos, the event turned violent when some attendants began jumping the security fences because food was running out and they thought they weren't going to get any. They pushed through Military Police officers and "were even taking away bags from people who had already purchased," Santos told El Universal.

When Santos started to take photographs, a soldier tried to take his camera away and called over other soldiers when he couldn't. After the group of soldiers also failed in taking Santos' camera away, the general of the squad, Carlos Enrique Yánez Figueredo, allegedly grabbed him by the neck and started choking him, El Universal added.

President Nicolás Maduro declared that the reporters were detained because they were found to be "provoking violence," the news agency AFP informed. Although the journalists were released the same day, they reported that they were assaulted by the military forces.

At a press conference on Nov. 6, Marco Ruiz, president of Venezuela's National Union of Press Workers (SNTP), showed the copy of the email with which the journalists were invited to cover the fair, El Universal reported.

Both the National College of Journalists, CNP, and the Photojournalist Group of Venezuela questioned the "criminalization of journalistic work." Fernando Sánchez, the president of the latter organization, said that the fact that the media often becomes the subject of the news is sad.

An investigation was opened against Diario 2001 after the media outlet published a story on Oct. 10  about the possible shortage of gasoline in Caracas, the capital of the nation. The story provoked a reaction from the president, who asked for those responsible for the information to be put in jail, AFP informed.

In September, Maduro asked the judicial branch and Attorney General for "special methods" to be able to punish the media outlets that report on the shortages in the nation, arguing that the press was engaging in psychological warfare.

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.