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More media freedom violations feared as protests continue

(RSF/IFEX) - 18 October 2011 - Reporters Without Borders shares the concern that the Chilean Union of Photographers and Camera Operators has expressed about the possibility of more violence against media personnel by the security forces, especially the carabinero militarized police, during the large protests that are expected to take place on 18 and 19 October in response to calls from the student movement.

The concern is justified by the many cases of abuses committed by police and carabineros at previous demonstrations. Chile's carabineros are part of the armed forces.

In a statement sent to Reporters Without Borders, the union outlines the many deliberate attacks by police against photographers and cameramen, as well as arrests, during recent demonstrations. The statement cites the cases of three journalists in particular:

- Rodrigo Cisternas, a photographer for the daily "La Tercera", who was targeted by riot police using a water canon known in Chile as a "guanaco."
- Chilevisión cameraman Luis Narvaez, who was attacked by Special Forces officers, and then detained for no clear reason.
- Photographer Cristian Opazo, who had tear-gas fired directly in his face.

The statement also mentioned the case of EFE photographer Victor Salas, who lost an eye after being hit repeatedly with a baton by a member of the carabinero police while covering teachers' demonstrations in Valparaíso in May 2008. The carabinero involved was never punished.

The carabineros do not like being filmed or photographed by media personnel or by students, who are providing their own coverage of the protests. History student Nicolás Salazar was attacked by carabineros after he filmed them attacking another student during a campus protest at the University of Concepción on 29 September ( ). The students involved filed a complaint about the use of violence. A complaint was also filed by the Chilean Correspondents' Association about Inter Press Service photographer Fernando Fiedler's arbitrary detention and the seizure of his equipment after he photographed police violence on 6 October.

"We call for these abuses to be fully investigated and we urge the armed forces not to obstruct the enquiries," Reporters Without Borders said. "The Union of Photographers and Camera Operators is right to point to the Victor Salas case as a shocking example of impunity. Gestures are needed to provide reassurances to all the journalists covering the demonstrations, regardless of which media outlet they work for. One such gesture would be the immediate abandonment of a controversial bill that would have the effect of turning journalists into police informers."

Following last week's visit by UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression Frank La Rue, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang is visiting Chile this week and is due to meet with student organizations and representatives of the Mapuche indigenous community, whose media outlets have also been harassed.

Reporters Without Borders hopes that she will help the Chilean authorities to hear and understand the widespread calls from the population for more consultation on major social issues and for media sector reforms.

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