National Guard detains 2 foreign journalists during protests in Venezuela

By Samantha Badgen

The National Union for Press Workers in Venezuela (SNTP in Spanish) accused the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) of detaining 41 persons, of whom at least two were foreign journalists who say they were beaten and robbed of their equipment during a protest on Friday, Feb. 28.

According to El Nacional, the journalists -- Italian citizen Francesca Commissari, who worked as a photographer for Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, and a Portuguese citizen -- have already been set free without any charges filed against them. The other protesters were set free but must abide by cautionary measures.

Commissari was reporting on the clashes between the protesters -- who took to the streets again after a few days of relative peace, telling President Nicolás Maduro that he’s “lost the streets” -- and the GNB in Altamira, Caracas, when GNB officials assaulted her. Her lawyer was able to speak with her while she was incarcerated, and even though she’s fine she confirmed that her equipment had disappeared.

Those arrested were taken to Fuerte Tiuna, a military installation in the downtown Caracas, and then were judged in a long audience at the Justice Palace, after which they were set free, said El Heraldo.

In an interview with NTN24, Commissari described how she was taking photos of the protest when GNB officers approached her and tried to take her bag with her camera and belongings. She tried to run away but was detained by the officers when they saw she started to leave. They took her belongings, equipment, and all the material she had on her.

Lisbeth de Cambra, secretary at the National College of Journalism in Caracas, denounced Commisari’s arrest and told NTN24 that as an international journalist she is “untouchable” and they should have let her go on with her work, in addition to leaving her equipment with her.

“The pattern of attacks that keeps repeating is happening to international correspondents and foreign journalists in the country. There is an obvious maneuver to silence the international press,” said Marco Ruiz, secretary general of SNTP.

NTN24 reported that according to SNTP, there have been 68 cases of attacks against journalists since the protests started on Feb. 12.

On Feb. 21, the Venezuelan government revoked the work permits of a CNN en Español team and blocked the Colombian cable channel NTN24’s signal on Feb. 13, for transmitting versions of the events that disagreed with the official version.

The protests began as a call against insecurity, repression and lack of basic goods, said La Nación, adding that the protests have left 18 dead and more than 260 injured, as well as dozens of demands for human rights violations.

On Thursday, Feb. 27 the United States State Department published a report where it criticized the restrictions placed on journalists and the repression of press freedoms in Venezuela.

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.