Venezuelan journalist arrested while covering protest against the government remains in jail and will be tried

Young Venezuelan journalist Yonathan Guédez (22), arrested on April 10 along with 30 protesters in one of the Venezuelan social demonstrations against the recent measures adopted by the Supreme Court, remains in prison, according to various local and national media outlets.

Since March 28, Venezuela has experienced a wave of social protests that started when the Supreme Court announced its decision to delegitimize the legislative functions of the National Assembly, whose members are mostly from the opposition party.

Marco Ruiz, secretary general of the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP), said on his twitter account that Guédez’s trial would be scheduled for April 17.

Guédez was to be tried on April 14, without knowing which crimes he is charged with. However, it transpired that he and the other detainees would be brought before a military court for affronts to a guard and damage to military installations, El Pitazo reported.

Subsequently, El Pitazo reported that the trial was not conducted because the case of Guédez and the others detained on April 10 was referred to the Court of Appeals of the Judicial Circuit, after the court declared itself incompetent to proceed. Meanwhile, Guédez and the other detainees will remain in the command of the First National Guard.

The young journalist, who works for the municipality of Iribarren, was covering the protest in the city of Barquisimeto when he was detained by the Bolivarian National Guard that came to curb the protesters, according to El Pitazo.

SNTP demanded “the immediate release of Guédez, detained in the exercise of his profession,” and urged stated authorities to respond to this evident violation to freedom of information,” according to Tal Cual.

Concerning Guédez and the detained protesters, lawyer Pedro Tronconis of the nonprofit organization Foro Penal Venezolano told TV Venezuela Noticias on April 13 that the crimes the public prosecutor’s office is charging are unknown. “Only after entering the courtroom will we be able to read the case police records” and learn the charges, Tronconi explained.

“Generally, detained journalists and demonstrators are classified as violent demonstrations and can be tried for crimes of intimidation and public instigation. So far, it is not known what crimes the journalist and the other detainees in Barquisimetro, Lara will be charged with. In other cases, they have also been blamed for property damage, if there is damage to property, public or private, in the vicinity of their detention,” Tronconis explained.

“When we hear the version of the young people or those arrested, it turns out that they are generally detained in places different from those stated in the police report,” he said.

Guédez’s mother, Arelis Guzmán, said in tears that he son has always excelled in his studies and work, and yet he has been treated like a criminal, being apprehended arbitrarily. Since his arrest, the police have not allowed her to see or talk to her son, she has only been able to bring him food and underwear, she told El Pitazo.

Several journalists, in addition to Guédez, were detained in other states while covering the protests last week.

One is José Rangel, in the state of Sucre. On April 13, the journalist was illegally detained for almost five hours, after being apprehended by the Bolivarian National Guard, according to site 2001.

The SNTP denounced through its Twitter account that Rangel was brutally beaten and requisitioned by the police during his detention. On Monday, April 17, the journalist should appear at a negotiation table before the Cumaná Public Prosecutor's Office, the union reported.

Also, journalist Daniel Molina, of newspaper El Pico, was detained and then released in the state of Mérida, according to Marco Ruiz, secretary general of SNTP. On April 11, Molina was covering the protest in the district of Tovar when he was approached by strangers, who took him from the place to remove his belongings, leaving him abandoned on the outskirts of the city, El Nacional reported.

On April 11, communicators Sebastián Pérez of Uruguay and Didier Barra of France were also detained in Venezuela. Both work for the French news agency Capa.

Pérez and Barra were at the airport to take their flight to return to France when they were detained by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin), according to El País of Uruguay.

Regarding the recent protests, Carlos Lauría, senior coordinator of the Americas program of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said: "Venezuelans cannot be fully informed on the political and economic crisis rocking the country when journalists are beaten, arbitrarily detained, blocked, and harassed by law enforcement officials.”

CPJ urged Venezuelan authorities to ensure that the press can report and cover protests safely. Several journalists have been detained, assaulted or have seen their equipment confiscated while covering the country's recent protest marches. There are also at least three independent news websites that remain blocked after transmitting footage of the demonstrations, the organization said.

Carlos Correa, director of the Venezuelan group for the promotion and defense of freedom of expression Espacio Público, told CPJ that his organization documented at least 29 cases of journalists injured, harassed, or prevented from covering protests in Caracas and other cities of the country, between March 30 and April 8.

The Inter-American COmmission on Human Rights (IACHR) also urged the Venezuelan Stat eot respect and guarantee the necessary conditions for the exercise of political rights, freedom of expression and the right for peaceful assembly of protesters in the country.

“Of particular concern is the information received regarding alleged attacks and confiscation of equipment and materials of journalists and media workers by security officials and groups of armed civilians during the demonstrations,” the organization said on its site.

Roberto Rock, president of the freedom of the press and information commission of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), told the Knight Center that what is happening in Venezuela is a government bid for an information blackout.

With a “very systematic strategy,” the authority is blocking participation, not only of television channels, radio stations or internet sites, but of the services that private companies provide to the media, such as the use of servers and hosting. Digital sites are being blocked by government interference without any notification, Rock said.

“We see that journalists’ live are in danger, that deaths have already been reported in protests, (...) women journalists being dragged down the street, very direct assaults that can no longer be considered collateral damage of the violence that can be generated in the streets, but are ‘direct targets,’ ‘direct aggressions,’ to journalists,” Rock said.

He also noted that there is growing evidence of paramilitary groups during the demonstrations. It is not only that “a journalist receives a blow within an enraged crowd, but that – these violent groups – directly locate the journalists and will attack them specifically. They are groups sometimes dressed in civilian clothes, but they are also state police forces or some military corps,” Rock said.

From March 28, when the protests began against the Supreme Court of Justice, to April 10, the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Venezuela counted: 25 limitations on coverage of matters of public interest, 19 physical assaults, 11 cases of intimidation, four attacks against journalistic teams, three arbitrary detentions, three robberies and a direct attack against a media headquarters, according to site Runrunes.

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.

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