March 6, 2004

Venezuela: 25 Attacks on Media Workers in One Week

The following is a press release from Los del Medio an independent, non-partisan media NGO made up of reporters, photo-journalists, producers and other media professionals concerned to raise the professional standards of Venezuelan journalism, both public and private, and to protect the human rights of media professionals in Venezuela. Full disclosure: I am a member of Los del Medio.

Caracas, March 4th, 2004
The media professionals' NGO, Los Del Medio, condemns the aggressions against at least 25 journalists, photographers and cameramen and their assistants as they performed their jobs between Friday 27 of February and Wednesday March the 3rd, 2004. The number of attacks in this short period of just six days approaches that tallied by this organization over 18 months: 34 formal complaints between November 2002 and May 2003.

This time around, workers have not merely been attacked due to being present in the line of fire. The majority of the victims have been subjected to abuse from the forces of public order, especially the National Guard, and others have been assaulted by sympathizers of the government and the opposition. Similarly, three journalists have been arrested without due process guarantees.

The following is a summary of most of the aggressions, according to complaints gathered by Los Del Medio together with the National Union of Press workers:

1. Berenice Gómez Velásquez.
Journalist for the Ultimas Noticias afternoon tabloid. On Friday the 27th in the afternoon she was on Avenida Andres Bello, (Central Caracas) on a motorcycle with a driver from Cadena Capriles. A group of people who identified themselves as followers of the government intercepted them, beat the driver, took the motorcycle and their bullet proof vests, their wallets, a necklace and Gomez's tape recorder. They beat him, then shot into the air. At 8 pm they returned the motorcycle only and told the driver: "This is what you get for going around with Berenice Gomez."

2. Carlos Montenegro.
Televen camaraman. On Friday, February 27th, he received a bullet wound to his left leg, shot by a uniformed officer when, on Libertador Avenue around Mariperez, he covered the end of the opposition march that led to skirmishes between the National Guard and the protesters.

3. Luis Vladimir Gallardo.
Photographer in Caracas for the newspaper El Impulso, of Barquisimeto, Lara State. On Friday, the 27th, he was wounded after receiving a blast of shotgun rubber pellets shot at close range to his face by a National Guardsman. He was also nearly asphyxiated by tear gas.

4. Juan Carlos Mena.
From the Mexican news agency Notimex. Was wounded by rubber pellets shot by the National guard.

5. Edixon Gonzalez and Marlon Guzman.
Reporters for El Tiempo, in Anzoategui State. On Friday the 27th of february they were attacked at the doors of the municipal police headquarters at El Tigre, Anzoategui state, in the Northeast of Venezuela, by people who identified themselves as followers of the government.

6. Felipe Izquierdo.
Cameraman for Univision, the US spanish language broadcaster. On Friday he was wounded with a bullet to the leg. He told Inter-Press Service that the shot emanated from the opposition march in Mariperez, Caracas.

7. Juan Barreto.
Photographer for Agence France Press. Was shot in the hand and thorax during the February 27th march. "A young man who was in the opposition march shot me with a 9 mm. handgun. Fortunately, I was saved by the bullet-proof vest I wear," said Barreto to Inter Press.

8. Bernabe Rodriguez Ruiz.
Photographer in Caracas for El Tiempo, the Puerto La Cruz newspaper. On Sunday, February 29th a tear gas canister was shot at his face. It was shot by a National Guardsman during a protest in Barcelona.

9.Tito Diaz.
Photographer for the newspaper Avance, of Los Teques, Miranda State. On Sunday the 29th in the evening he was wounded with rubber pellets during coverage of the clashes between opposition neighbors and the National Guard in San Antonio de los Altos.

The report goes on to describe a total of 25 attacks against journalists and two illegal arrests. Fifteen of the attacks were perpetrated by government supporters or the Armed Forces, eight by groups supporting the opposition, and two could not be immediately attributed.

Los del Medio calls on press workers to lodge formal complaints against the attacks through our email:

We also call on the Citizen Branch - the prosecution service and the people's ombudsman - and the Judicial Branch to defend the human rights of the victims and launch impartial and fair investigations into these attacks, following due process. We also call on the forces of public order and the parts to the conflict not to obstruct the work of media workers. We call on the State to guarantee journalists' security.

Equally, we invite both the private and public media, and especially reporters and those who conduct news and opinion programs, to carry out a balanced coverage of the events taking place and their consequences.

Only a fair reflection of the events, produced to high standards of professional ethics, can contribute to slow the violence on the streets and the excessive repression of State forces and thereby help find a positive outcome for the country.