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National Guard personnel assault photographer José González during demonstration in Anaco; military and police officers seize reporter Wilmer Escalona's camera in Valencia, erase photos

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 4 February 2009, José González, a photojournalist for the daily "Mundo Oriental", was assaulted by members of the National Guard while he was covering a demonstration by public transport drivers. The incident took place in the city of Anaco, Anzoátegui state, northeastern Venezuela.

González was covering the demonstration with other journalists when the National Guard arrived and began throwing teargas canisters and firing rubber bullets. Two of the National Guard agents rushed towards him as he photographed their colleagues' actions and beat him with their anti-riot shields. González said that he identified himself as a journalist several times, but they continued to beat him, while demanding that he hand over his camera.

The photographer was subsequently handcuffed but was released when one of the National Guard members recognised him as a newspaper reporter. The National Journalists' Association issued a press release condemning the actions against the journalist.

In a separate incident, on 4 February, officers of the Valencia municipal police department and army personnel seized reporter Wilmer Escalona's camera while he was covering the arrival at a hospital of 88 children who were suffering from food poisoning after eating a meal at a school in Valencia, the capital of Carabobo state, in central Venezuela. Escalona is a photographer for the "Notitarde" newspaper.

The officers deleted the photographs from the camera's memory, then returned it to him and forced him to leave the hospital.

At the same time, journalists Adhara Ojeda, of "Notitarde", Alejandra Guevara, of the Dat TV station, and photographer Wilfredo Hernández, of the "El Carabobeño" newspaper, were subjected to insults by the police and military personnel and by alleged supporters of President Hugo Chávez, who accused the journalists of being "counterrevolutionaries" and "in favour of a coup." Faced with this harassment, the journalists opted to leave the area in order to avoid being assaulted as they realised that the police were not going to ensure their safety.

This is the second time in less than a month that "Notitarde"'s reporters have been harassed by Chávez supporters. On 14 January, hooded women threw stones into the newspaper's offices building and scratched pro-government slogans in the building's facade, while insulting the newspaper's employees.

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