By Teresa Mioli and Paola Nalvarte
Arbitrary detentions and the cancellation and withholding of passports belonging to two high-profile Venezuelan journalists helped to mark September as another month in a long period of aggressions against the press in the country.
Twenty-five journalists have been arbitrarily detained in 2018, according to Mariengracia Chirinos of Venezuela’s Press and Society Institute (IPYS, for its initials in Spanish).
“Most of them [occurred] by police and military officers during the coverage of protests or community affairs,” Chirinos told the Knight Center.
Two journalists were unable to leave the country this month: one because authorities said his passport had been cancelled and the other because he was told he was prohibited from leaving the country.
Journalist Isnardo Bravo was detained for five hours at the Maiquetía Airport, at the offices of the Management Service of Identification, Migration and Foreigners (Saime). He was later transferred to the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (Dgcim), where he was interrogated and spent another three hours in detention, according to IPYS Venezuela.
This happened on Sept. 24 when Bravo was about to take one of his daughters to Miami at the invitation of his sister, the journalist told the media after his release. They withheld his passport during his detention and informed him that he had been prohibited from leaving the country since February because of the investigation of the case of pilot Óscar Pérez, Bravo said. His daughter was handed over to his wife who was still at the airport when his Bravo was detained.
When he was released, they returned his passport, he was told that he had no other additional appointment and that the restriction on leaving the country had been lifted, NotiVenezuela reported. Bravo stated that the Dgcim agents made him sign a document in which he is prohibited from reporting or disclosing any information related to Pérez, a rebel helicopter pilot later killed by security forces, NotiVenezuela reported.
— VPItv (@VPITV) September 24, 2018
Earlier this month, on Sept. 6, journalist Nelson Bocaranda had his passport taken away by the Saime at Simón Bolívar International Airport who said it was nullified in the system. However, Bocaranda said via Twitter that his passport had an extension until 2020. The following day, he wrote that he was told it could be a system failure.
Bocaranda said he filed a complaint before Saime, the Attorney General and the Ombudsman on Sept. 20 “for the illegal confiscation” of his passport.
In addition to having passport issues, journalists have been detained this month while carrying out their reporting duties.
Most recently, Rey Mozo Zambrano, journalist for site Efecto Cocuyo, was detained in La Guaira on Sept. 25 while reporting on a line of Venezuelan patients waiting to be seen by a Chinese hospital ship, according to the site where he works. He was approached by members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB, for its initials in Spanish), taken to its headquarters and interrogated “five times by five different members,” according to what he told Efecto Cocuyo.
He was told that he needed a credential from the government to report, and that he intended to “misinform” and should consult state-owned VTV for information about the ship, Efecto Cocuyo reported.
“I keep doing my job, they are not going to intimidate me. Long live the independent press of this country,” Mozo said via Twitter after his release.
On Sept. 14, an Argentinian journalist and two British journalists were detained for eight hours by intelligence services while doing a report in the Venezuelan border with Colombia, according to AFP and SNTP Venezuela.
#ALERTAsntp | Los periodistas Laura Saravia, @lauraasaravia, Dan Rivers, @danriversitv; y, Barnaby Green, @Barnaby_Green, ya fueron liberados. Estuvieron presos e incomunicados en Río Limón, #Zulia, en un comando de la #GNB. Los detuvieron cuando salían de #Venezuela pic.twitter.com/vzR6tt9R4z
— SNTP (@sntpvenezuela) September 15, 2018
IPYS also recorded two other arbitrary detentions during the first days of September.
On Sept. 8, in the State of Amazonas, a group of journalists from El Nacional Web was detained for four hours by the Bolivarian National Guard while heading to report on the flood of the Orinoco River, according to IPYS.
Two days later, in Monagas, journalists from the newspaper El Periódico were detained for an hour by Caracas police officers when they were producing a report in the municipal market of Maturín.
Regarding the detentions, IPYS indicated that these discretionary practices of members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces are contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and the principles of the Inter-American System on Human Rights. Articles 57 and 58 of the Venezuelan Constitution, the Institute continued, protect and guarantee the right to freedom of expression and access to information of public interest.