Journalists attacked during anti-government protests in Venezuela

The protests and the crises that followed the decision of the Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) to suspend the powers of the National Assembly on Wednesday, March 29, have once again left the press in its most vulnerable position: security forces have assaulted reporters covering the protests, according to reports.

The case with the most repercussions was the attack against Elyangélica González, correspondent of Caracol Radio, who was transmitting live for the Colombian outlet during a student protest on the outskirts of the Supreme Court.

González was live for Caracol Radio, narrating an earlier eviction attempt of the place by pro-government groups who had threatened journalists and demonstrators, she said.

Suddenly, and in the midst of the retelling of previous events, González raises her voice and says "I'm not leaving, I'm a journalist, I'm not going to leave. I have the credentials to cover the Chancellor of the Republic, do not take away my phone [...]!" From there the communication begins to cut and the sounds transmitted are what appears to be a forced struggle.

In addition to this live broadcast, the incident was recorded in a video that circulated through media and social networks. In the video, at least 10 men of the Bolivarian National Guard surround González, who was sitting on the floor. Later some of the soldiers drag and take her by the arms and legs towards a location outside the range of the video.

After the fact, the radio network regained communication with González who said she had been beaten, and that her cell phone had been destroyed, according to newspaper El Espectador.

"I am scratched all over, with hair in my hands, I am scratched, beaten. I'm very sad, this is a shame. Here it seems that being a journalist is like being a delinquent," she said, according to El Espectador. The journalist also publicly showed her injuries to various media outlets.

Colombia's Freedom of the Press Foundation (FLIP) issued a joint statement with Caracol Radio Colombia, the National Association of Media (Asomedios) and the Colombian Association of Media Editors (Andiarios) in which, in addition to repudiating the fact of "contradicting democratic principles", it asked different institutions to weigh in on the subject.

"These events are not only humiliating, authoritarian, cruel and inhumane against a female journalist, but also constitute a serious violation of press freedom that questions the guarantees for international correspondents that cover the difficult situation that Venezuela is going through," part of the statement said. "These are actions of prior censorship, violence against the press and destruction of journalistic material are prohibited by the international declarations of Human Rights in the State of Venezuela. This attack on the Colombian press accredited in Venezuela is already known to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)."

The entities that signed the statement asked the Colombian Foreign Ministry to support journalists in Venezuela who work for Colombian media, and for the IACHR to activate the mechanisms at their disposal to protect González.

"Lastly, we call on journalism in the Americas to join forces and solidarity efforts in order to keep the international community informed about what is happening in Venezuela," the statement said.

The Colombian Foreign Ministry also spoke on the matter, Univision reported, as well as the Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público.

In a conversation with U.S. media outlet Univision, where González is also a correspondent, the journalist said that the Venezuelan Minister of Communication assured her that he will investigate the case.

Other Attacks

González's case attracted international attention, but it is not the only one.

The National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) of Venezuela published several tweets on March 31 related to different assaults, robberies and repression against journalists and their work.

One of those affected was Marco Bello, of Reuters, who according to SNTP was attacked during the two days of protests. Iván Reyes, of the Venezuelan digital outlet Efecto Cocuyo, was also attacked when "GNB hit him in the face and tried to take away the cell phone" while covering the event, according to the SNTP.

Included is the case of Andry Rincón, a cameraman of Vivo Play, who was beaten and detained by the National Guard. In addition, the organization reported that the Globovisión team was beaten and robbed by the National Guard.

The University Council of the University of Zulia rejected the attacks against protesters, deputies and media workers. "This council deplores the militarization of public life, censorship that affects the right of the people to be informed and threats by irregular armed groups to the exercise of democratic and peaceful protest."

The SNTP demanded that the District Attorney’s office urgently open an investigation against a colonel of the GNB whom it said is responsible for all these attacks against journalists, reported Efecto Cocuyo.

"It is not the first time that [colonel] Lugo has ordered officials in his command to attack the press. He has done so before the vicinity of the National Electoral Council and he does so now in the Court to hide and silence information on recent protests,” SNTP Secretary General Marco Ruiz said in a statement, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

Rising crisis in Venezuela

The Supreme Court's decision to remove and assume the powers of the National Assembly immediately generated reactions at the national and international level.

Opposition leaders, such as deputies and assemblymen, as well as students, protested against this decision. There were also attacks against the protestors, El Nacional reported.

Even the Attorney General of Venezuela, traditionally Chavista, classified this decision as unconstitutional.

The international community also spoke out in nonverbal ways. Peru, for example, indefinitely withdrew its ambassador in Venezuela, while Colombia consulted its ambassador, BBC Mundo reported.

The IACHR classified the decision as "a usurpation of the functions of the Legislative Power by the Judicial and Executive Powers" and urged the State to "restore independence and separation of powers of the State."

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, urgently requested the convocation of the Permanent Council of this organization, reported BBC Mundo. On March 15, Almagro proposed that Venezuela be suspended from the OAS if it did not hold general elections within 30 days, BBC reported.

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.