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JOURNALIST KILLED IN CLASHES; CHAVEZ SAYS NO MORE ATTACKS ON FREE EXPRESSION

Amid an extraordinary turn of events last week which saw Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez ousted from office then restored to power within four days, free-expression groups called attention to the death of journalist Jorge Tortoza and the wounding of three others.

Tortoza, a photographer for the daily newspaper "Diario 2001," was killed on 11 April while covering clashes between pro- and anti-Chavez supporters in the capital, Caracas. According to another local journalist interviewed by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), he was shot by a military sniper from the roof of City Hall. He was taken to a hospital but died shortly after being admitted.

CPJ and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) note that three other photojournalists were also injured - Jonathan Freitas of "Tal Cual" newspaper, "Avance" photographer Luis Hernández and his brother, Enrique Hernández of state-owned news agency Venpres.

On 11 April, Chávez ordered all privately-owned television stations off the air, saying they were "irresponsible," "had launched a campaign of defamation" and were "inciting people to violence," says RSF. That came after the stations refused to exclusively broadcast a speech by Chávez during a government crackdown on a labour protest. Instead, they split their screens to show simultaneously the speech and the protest mounted by unions to protest Chávez' economic policies.

Following his return to power on 14 April, however, Chávez has told the country that there will be no "witch hunts or attacks against freedom of expression or opinion," says RSF. He has also urged the nation's media to "return to the path of reason."

According to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Chávez is one of only two heads of state in the Americas who have not signed the Declaration of Chapultepec. The IAPA-sponsored declaration sets out 10 principles for ensuring freedom of expression and press freedom. IAPA says the Venezuelan government has failed to comply with any of the declaration's principles.

For more information, see www.rsf.org, www.cpj.org, www.sipiapa.org.


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