A wave of attacks against journalists covering the political tension in Venezuela has prompted the International Federation of Journalists to demand that the government and opposition groups lower the temperature of confrontation in the country.
“Journalists are being caught in the line of fire,” said Aidan White IFJ General Secretary after incidents of against journalists in Caracas and other cities. “All sides must take action to ease the tension or more tragic events are inevitable.”
In the course of the past three days, two cameramen have been shot, a photographer was injured by rubber bullets and two other reporters were hit by tear gas and sharp items. A female journalist was assaulted and received death threats and two other colleagues were stripped of their equipment by police and then punched by government supporters.
“This is a completely unacceptable level of violence directed against media staff,” said Gregorio Salazar, IFJ Regional Coordinator and General Secretary of the National Trade Union of Media Workers (SNTP) in Venezuela. He said that in a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations three days ago, Carlos Montenegro, a Globovision cameraman, was shot and Vladimir Gallardo, a photographer for the paper El Impulso, was hit in the face at point-blank range by rubber bullets.
On the same day, Berenice Gómez, a reporter for the paper Últimas Noticias, was surrounded by pro-government protesters, deprived of her personal belongings and told: “You are going to die.” All the incidents took place in central Caracas.
On 29 February, Felipe Izquierdo, a journalist working for the international channel Univisión was shot in the foot and on 1 March Johnny Figarella, a reporter for Globovisión was sent flying by a tear gas bomb which hit his chest, while working in the Caurimare area of Caracas. His flak jacket saved him from serious injury.
In Terrazas del Avila, two reporters for El Nacional, Edgar López and Henry Delgado were attacked and had their press cards and camera stolen. In Valencia, Janeth Carrasquilla, a reporter for Globovisión, was hit on the head, causing a wound that required several stitches.
The IFJ says the government must act to reduce the rising levels of violence and political tension. “Journalists carrying out their professional duties must not be targeted,” said White. “At the same time, journalists must avoid unnecessary risks. No story is worth dying for”.
The IFJ also reported incidents in Aneoategui, where on 1 March Billy Castro, reporter for the journal Impacto, was punched by government’s supporters while covering an assault on the Chamber of Commerce in Anaco; Bernabé Ruiz, for El Tiempo, was cut in the face by fragments of a tear gas bomb thrown by police; Willimar Rodríguez, correspondent for Impacto, Reyna Díaz, correspondent for El Tiempo, and the reporter Mariela Gabriela Gómez, for Telecaribe, were attacked in Lecherías. In Maracaibo, capital of the state of Zulia, journalists Cecilio Acosta, Alirio Rodríguez and Dainú Acosta, were detained. The IFJ, The National College of Journalists and SNTP have demanded their release.
The latest violence has echoes of the actions against journalists that followed the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez almost two years ago. Following those events the IFJ carried out an investigation on the role of journalists and published a report critical of the government and calling for more protection for journalists.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries