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Military official briefly detains journalist Audy Sánchez during referendum vote; officials obstruct work of journalist Dagoberto Parra Gonzáles and photographer Carlos Gálviz

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 15 February 2009, journalist Audy Sánchez, of the "El Expreso" newspaper, was detained by a Plan República officer when he was covering the referendum for a constitutional amendment that would allow for the re-election of Venezuela's president and other officials on an indefinite basis. Plan República is a military body responsible for providing security during elections. The incident took place in an elections centre located at the José Luis Afanador School, in the parish of La Sabanita, in Ciudad Bolívar, southeastern Venezuela.

Sánchez was detained when he refused to hand over his notebook and press credentials. The journalist was accredited by the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral) to cover the vote from within the electoral centres. Nevertheless, he was ordered by the officer to stay in a specific spot and was informed that he was under arrest.

The officer, however, withdrew the order after a group of reporters intervened on Sánchez's behalf.

The group of journalists filed a complaint about the incident with the Fifth Infantry Division (Quinta División de Infantería).

In a separate incident on the same day, journalist Dagoberto Parra Gonzáles and photographer Carlos Gálviz, of the "Los Andes" newspaper, were prevented from entering voting centres in the municipality of Andrés Bello, in Táchira state, southern Venezuela.

The journalists told IPYS that members of Plan República, together with National Electoral Council officials, prevented them from entering the voting centres when they were attempting to interview voters.

The journalists had credentials issued both by the media outlet for which they work and by the National Electoral Council, authorising them to cover the event. However, the officials argued that they had received an order from the authorities prohibiting media access to the voting tables.

Venezuela's legislation allows journalists to enter voting centres during electoral processes and only restricts them from going near the voting machines in order to preserve the right to a secret vote.

IPYS condemns the actions of both the Plan República officers and the National Electoral Council officials as a restriction on the work of journalists.

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