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Journalists attacked and prevented from covering event by indigenous community

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On 24 March 2011, a group of journalists, made up of David Torres, of Gama TV; Washington Benalcázar, a correspondent for the newspaper "El Comercio Imbabura"; Christian Tinajero, of Ecuavisa TV station; and Enrique Portilla of RTS, were attacked and prevented from working by members of the community of El Topo, near the city of Otavalo, 95 km north of Quito.

The journalists were assaulted around 18:30, while they were attempting to cover a public assembly attended by nearly 300 of the community members who had gathered to address an issue related to the administration of native justice.

Torres told Fundamedios that the journalists felt a hostile atmosphere from the moment they entered the premises and were asked to not record or take photographs. An hour later, as they were leaving the locale, the community members attacked them from behind with nettle leaves after the president of El Topo community, Camilo Anrango, issued an order to this effect in the Quichua language.

Torres expressed concern about the incident. He said that the journalists had acted responsibly, whereas the community members had prevented them from covering the event, infringing on the public's right to be informed.

Benalcázar noted that journalists are more and more vulnerable to this kind of attack because, even though two policemen were present, the media were not protected and had to flee the area.

On the other hand, the community's representative, Marco Guatemal, said there was a lack of communication between the journalists and the council's leaders. He attributed the incident to "excessive behaviour from both parties" because the journalists should have waited for "a sentence to be issued against the subjects detained by the community before making the information public." The native leader did acknowledge, however, that the community should have not acted violently.

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