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Journalist beaten, injured by police in Bogotá; "Vanguardia Liberal" photographer assaulted by demonstrators in Cesar

(FLIP/IFEX) - Adamis Guerra Bermúdez, photographer for the Valledupar edition of the newspaper "Vanguardia Liberal", was assaulted on 9 May 2007 by informal gasoline vendors protesting a recent decision by the national tax authority.

The incident occurred near the town hall of La Paz, 15 minutes from the city of Valledupar in Cesar department. The photographer and journalist Edgardo Mendoza were on their way to cover another news story when their movement was blocked by the demonstrators, who were burning tires in the middle of the highway and blocking traffic. The news team decided to cover the protest, which then shifted to the town hall, where some people attacked a vehicle belonging to the tax authority.

Several demonstrators, some of whom were masked, assaulted the journalists. Guerra was wearing his press vest and had taken photos of the protest, so the demonstrators cornered him against a wall, hit him and demanded he turn over his photos. His digital camera was seriously damaged in the fray. Finally, he took refuge in a nearby residence until the police arrived.

The La Paz authorities have not issued any statement on the incident, and apparently no one has been detained in connection with the assault, according to various journalists in the area.

In a separate incident, journalist Adriana Cuéllar, of the José Alvear Restrepo human rights lawyers' group, was assaulted by members of the police's anti-riot squad (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios de la Policía, ESMAD), on 1 May during a Mayday demonstration in Bogotá.

The incident occurred at intersection of Seventh Avenue and Twelfth Street in the capital, when four police officers were beating a passerby moving through the area. The journalist approached them to cover the incident, identifying herself as a journalist and a human rights defender. However, three of the police officers assaulted her to prevent her from recording the beating.

Cuéllar filed a complaint before the Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalía General de la Nación), the Ombudsman's Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) and the Procurator General's Office (Procuraduría General). According to the Forensic Medicine Institute doctors (Instituto de Medicina Legal) who evaluated the injuries caused by the police, she will be unable to work for a week.

FLIP contacted Lieutenant Colonel José Javier Vivas, a commander of the Bogotá Metropolitan Police (Comandante del Grupo Fuerza Disponible de la Policía Metropolitana de Bogotá) for his comments on the incident and possible punishment of those responsible. However, no response was obtained, even after several days.

FLIP is concerned by these two incidents and calls on individual citizens and the authorities to respect journalists' right to carry out their work. It also asked the authorities to investigate the assault on the "Vanguardia Liberal" photographer and to punish the police officers who assaulted Cuéllar. FLIP is concerned by the repeated assaults by ESMAD members on journalists covering public demonstrations.

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