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Venezuela: Investigation into security forces should take account of journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has hailed Sunday's announcement by the Venezuela prosecutor-general’s office that 97 members of the armed forces and police are to be investigated on suspicion of torture and mistreatment. The move comes after two months of impassioned street protests accompanied by constant clashes between protesters and security forces that have often been violent.

Reporters Without Borders called on the authorities to ensure that attacks on journalists are fully taken into account in this investigation, which must be independent and impartial if it is to be credible. The Venezuelan National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) has registered 181 attacks on journalists of various kinds of media and editorial positions since the start of the violence on February 12.

“We point out that the role of the army and police is to protect the population from the excesses likely to occur during mass protests, and not to prevent journalists from doing their work,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk. “In March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the safety of journalists during peaceful protests that stressed the crucial role that journalists play in covering demonstrations.”

Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly drawn attention to abuses by both sides in Venezuela. In a letter to President Nicolás Maduro on February 26, RWB condemned the many violations of freedom of information taking place in Venezuela, and urged the authorities to punish those responsible.

Mildred Manrique, a reporter for the privately-owned daily 2001, has been targeted twice by the police. The first time, she was attacked while covering a major protest on February 18. The second time, the police searched her apartment on March 22 and, because they found bullet-proof vests and gas masks, they held her for several hours on suspicion of terrorism and confiscated equipment.

The security forces have also harassed foreign reporters. While covering a demonstration in Aragua province for the newspaper Abruzzo on February 24, Italian journalist Giafranco di Giacomantonio was arrested, stripped of his equipment and held for 12 hours, until Italian diplomats helped to obtain his release.

"While Sunday's decision by the prosecutor-general’s office constitutes progress in the fight against impunity, the role of both demonstrators and criminals who take advantage of the unrest to target journalists should not be forgotten," RSF said.

Venezuela is ranked 116th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Date posted: April 15, 2014 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 6