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Valera journalist threatened following article about allegedly corrupt mayor; Barinas town councillors threaten to take over newspaper's headquarters

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 22 April 2008, "Diario de los Andes" newspaper journalist Javier Pirela received an anonymous telephone threat in connection with an article he published accusing Richard Cabrices of corruption. Cabrices is mayor of the San Rafael de Carvajal municipality. The anonymous caller referred to the article and told Pirela "his life was in danger." The incident occurred in the city of Valera, Trujillo state, in western Venezuela.

The journalist said that before he received the threat, a San Rafael de Carvajal town councillor told him that certain political sectors who were negatively affected by the accusations against the mayor were planning an attack on the journalist.

A few hours earlier, journalist Eilyn Barrios, of the same newspaper, was warned by the head of the Anti-Corruption Front (Frente Anticorrupción), Javier Álvarez, that he would incite the public to take over the newspaper's headquarters if "Diario de los Andes" continued to criticise the mayor. The Anti-Corruption Front was created in order to monitor the municipal administration but, according to the press, is linked to the mayor.

On 23 April, Pirela asked the Attorney General's Office to take measures to protect him. He should receive an answer within 48 hours of his request.

IPYS notes that Pirela also filed a complaint on 4 April denouncing threats he received from Mayor Cabrices over Pirela's reporting, on 2 April, that the National Assembly had questioned the mayor as part of an investigation into alleged corruption under his administration. According to Pirela, the mayor sent a message via journalist Rebeca Viloria, advising Pirela to take care, threatening to "terrorise" him and warning that the newspaper's headquarters could be set on fire because of his articles. The Prosecutor's Office dismissed the complaint on 24 April, citing insufficient evidence. Activities at the newspaper continued as normal on that day but the main doors were kept closed as a preventive measure.

IPYS urges the authorities to investigate the case and provide protection for the journalist.

In a separate development, on 21 April, a group of town councillors in Barinas, southwestern Venezuela, threatened to take over the headquarters of "La Noticia" newspaper if the paper continued to report on their activities. The councillors making the threat are Vicente Uzcátegui, Antonio Di Lorenzo, Omar Castro, Juan Guédez and Javier Salazar.

"La Noticia" editor-in-chief Héctor Villamediana told IPYS that the town councillors went to the paper's headquarters and threatened to occupy it. The councillors were apparently angered by an article by journalist Walter Obregón in which he reported that the five men were admitted as members of the ruling Venezuelan United Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Unidos de Venezuela, PSUV), even though they are currently under investigation for alleged corruption.

According to Villamediana, the newspaper was prepared to give the town councillors the right to respond by publishing their arguments, but the men said they would resort to "illegal actions and take justice into their own hands." A complaint was filed at the Barinas Prosecutor's Office.

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