Journalists working in Venezuela suffer detentions, attacks and blocking of internet sites as crisis worsens

As the sociopolitical crisis in Venezuela deepens and President Nicolás Maduro fights to remain in power, journalists in the country are targeted by assaults, detentions, thefts of their work material and blocking of their internet sites and television channels.

One of the most recent of these violations took place on the night of Feb. 25, when the U.S. channel Univisión Noticias reported that a six-person news team, led by its main presenter Jorge Ramos, had been detained at the Miraflores Palace, the presidential residence, where it had arrived for an interview with Maduro.

Palacio de Miraflores (Guillermo Ramos Flamerich [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)])Palacio de Miraflores (Guillermo Ramos Flamerich [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)])

As Ramos said himself in an interview after his release, he and his team were held for around two and a half hours in Miraflores after Maduro got up from the interview after almost 17 minutes of conversation. According to Ramos, Maduro was annoyed by his questions about "the lack of democracy in Venezuela, about torture, political prisoners, about the humanitarian crisis that it was experiencing.”

"He got up from the interview after I showed him the videos of some young people eating from a garbage truck," Ramos told his colleague Patricia Janiot of Univisión. According to him, once Maduro got up, the Minister for Communication and Information, Jorge Rodríguez, entered and told them that the interview was not authorized and proceeded to confiscate all technical equipment.

"We do not have anything. They kept the cameras, all our equipment, they took our cards," Ramos said. "They have the interview. They took all the cell phones away from us – I'm talking to you on another cell phone that is not mine – we do not have the equipment, we do not have the interview.”

Ramos also said that they were kept separated and interrogated. He added that he and María Martínez, vice president of news gathering at Univisión Noticias, were locked in a "security room" with the lights off and they took cell phones from them, their backpacks and “personal things.”

“They are stealing our work," Ramos said, but added that "this will be known with video or without video.”

The six journalists were deported the following day, Univisión reported. "We are being expelled from the country," Ramos told W Radio of Colombia from the Maiquetía airport, which serves the city of Caracas. The journalist said they were being guarded by officials from the embassies of Mexico and the United States in Venezuela, as well as by Maduro’s people. He also said that the Univision team had been invited to go to the country for the interview.

On Feb. 26, the detention of another journalist by Maduro’s security forces was also revealed, as reported by Infobae. Daniel Garrido, from the U.S. channel Telemundo, was isolated and held incommunicado for more than seven hours after taking photographs of members of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) that arrived at the hotel where the Univisión Noticias team was staying, the site added.

Luis Fernández, vice president of Telemundo, reported when he obtained communication with the journalist. "We just wrote Daniel Garrido, He's free. They took the phones from him," Fernández said according to Infobae.

Serious attacks on the press have been reported since the previous weekend when attempts were made to enter Venezuela with humanitarian aid from various countries. On Feb. 23, or 23F, as the date became popularized, attempts were made to take the aid across the borders with Colombia and Brasil, as BBC Mundo reported.

However, the event turned violent. The clashes left at least four people dead and 285 injured, El Nuevo Herald reported. One of the trucks with humanitarian aid was even set on fire on one of the border bridges with Colombia, according to BBC Mundo.

According to the Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público, during that day there were at least 20 violations of freedom of expression including aggressions, internet blockings, instances of channels being taken off air and restrictions to journalistic work.

According to their records, in two different instances, armed civilians stole cameras, cell phones and other work equipment from professionals of digital media Venezolanos Por la Información (VPI) and of the channel Venevisión.

The journalist Lenin Danieri was wounded by pellets in Ureña, while the photojournalist Pascual Filardo, of Prensa de Lara, was wounded by a tear gas bomb during launch by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), according to Espacio Público.

For its part, the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) Venezuela documented 21 violations during that day, including 12 cases of attacks, assaults and intimidation. Together with Espacio Público they registered the blocking of some internet sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

Both organizations reported that Chile's channel 24H was removed from the Directv programming grid after it transmitted part of what was happening at the borders, Espacio Público added. According to IPYS, the National Commission of Telecomunications (Conatel) "pressured" stations from Apure state, on the border with Colombia, and prohibited them from covering "street conflicts." The day before, Conatel had already blocked the channels NatGeo and Antena 3, according to IPYS Venezuela.

"The blocking of digital media that offer live broadcasts of news takes place in a context where national television does not offer coverage of the events in real time," Espacio Público said.

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), through its president, María Elvira Domínguez, demanded “respect and guarantees for the work of journalists,” after the organization “learned of and received denunciations of the various risks to which national and foreign journalists have been exposed, as well as regarding the censorship by the regime and its instruments of repression to prevent Venezuelans from being informed.”

According to the IAPA, the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) reported that at least 50 Venezuelan journalists were trapped in Colombia after Maduro closed the border with that country.