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Journalists assaulted by prison guards in Valledupar, Cesar

(FLIP/IFEX) - On 10 September 2009, Luisa Alario Solano, a journalist for the daily "Q'hubo", and Hernando Vergara, a photographer for the "El Heraldo" newspaper, were assaulted by National Prison Institute (INPEC) guards while they were carrying out their work.

The incident took place in the emergency ward of the Rosario Pumerejo de López hospital where medical personnel were treating a prisoner from the Valledupar prison who had attempted to commit suicide.

The journalists, who had gone to the hospital to interview hospital staff, approached the prisoner when they realised that he was calling them over in order to provide them with a statement. When Vergara began to take photographs, the guards who were watching over the prisoner threw themselves at him and tried to grab his camera. "I tried to assist Hernando, but one of the guards pushed me and hit me in the face, while they insulted us with obscenities," Alario told FLIP.

FLIP spoke to Ana María Escobar Fernández, the head of the INPEC's press department. Escobar said that the guards may have reacted the way they did because the journalists might have failed to follow certain protocols. "I don't know if the guards overreacted, I can't be sure because I wasn't there, but it's also not right for a journalist to attempt to approach a prisoner at all costs," she said. According to Escobar, a prisoner can only be interviewed if authorisation if provided by the guards, since even if the inmate is not in prison at a given point in time he is still a prisoner. She also noted that the journalists had not obtained permission from the prisoner himself to take photographs.

FLIP calls on the INPEC to fully investigate the actions of the guards involved in the incident and also urges journalists to ensure that they follow the proper protocols. The organistion, however, is of the opinion that, even if Alario and Vergara committed a procedural error, the manner in which the guards responded was unjustified.

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