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Court asked to protect TV journalist in attempt to seize riot video

(RSF/IFEX) - 2 April 2012 - Reporters Without Borders supports the principle of a request for judicial protection for a TV journalist's video of rioting which a court in Coyhaique, the capital of the troubled Patagonian region of Aysén, is due to consider today.

The request was filed by Senator Alejandro Navarro Brain and Rubén Jérez, a lawyer with the United Workers Center (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, CUT), on 29 March, a few hours after men in civilian dress went to the home of the journalist who filmed the video, Canal 40 TV Aysén owner and director Samuel Chong Rivera, and threatened to arrest him if he did not hand it over.

The men described themselves as “detectives” but did not show any identification. According to the online newspaper El Periodista, they demanded all the video footage that Chong filmed for his TV station during protests on 15 March. In particular, they wanted footage showing protesters setting fire to a “carabinero” bus and water-cannon truck. The carabineros are a militarized police force. Despite their threats, Chong refused to surrender any of his footage.

“We hope that the Coyhaique court will approve this request but at the same time we think an investigation is needed in order to quickly identify those responsible for this unwarranted attempt to obtain journalistic material,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They sought not only to violate protection of sources, to which Chong and every journalist have a right, but also to implement a legal provision turning journalists into police auxiliaries that, in the face of widespread opposition, interior minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter recently had to drop from a security bill that bears his name.”

The authorities have cracked down hard during the past two months of protests in Aysén and have even tried to block access to news and information in the region.

Reporters Without Borders nonetheless hails the 29 March announcement by the local authorities that they are withdrawing charges against 22 people – including Canal 3 / Radio Santa Maria cameraman Victor Hugo Gómez – who were arrested during protests on 20 March under a state security law dating back to the 1973-90 military dictatorship.

After falling 47 places to be ranked 80th out 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Chile continues to see many cases of carabinero abuses against journalists. The latest was Radio Cooperativa reporter Andrés Jara's violent and arbitrary arrest while covering a fire at a plastics factory in Huechuraba, in the Santiago region, on 27 March. The authorities have offered no explanation for his arrest.
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