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Twelve journalists from privately-owned media group attacked, employee of parastatal foundation arrested

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders notes the rapid progress that has been made in the investigation into an attack on 12 journalists employed by the privately-owned Cadena Capriles press group on 13 August 2009. An employee of a parastatal foundation was arrested two days later and the prosecutor general's office said nine other people were being sought on the basis of statements by victims and video and photos taken during the attack.

"We would like to express our full support for Cadena Capriles," Reporters Without Borders said. "At the same time, we note that the government has demonstrated a desire to ensure that violence does not go unpunished in this case, as it previously did in response to the 3 August armed attack on the privately-owned television station Globovisión, by arresting the activist Lina Ron."

The press freedom organisation added: "Unfortunately, the media situation is extremely polarised as a result of new controversial legislation and recent closures and we fear the government may be losing control of the radical activists that claim to be its supporters. A national debate involving people of all political views is more than ever needed to address the issue of the media."

The activist arrested on the evening of 15 August was Gabriel Uzcátegui Beaumont, 28, an employee of the Simón Rodríguez Foundation. He is suspected of taking part in the violent attack on 12 Cadena Capriles journalists - Octavio Hernández, Manuel Alejandro Álvarez, Gabriela Iribarren, Jesús Hurtado, Marco Ruíz, Usbaldo Arrieta, Fernando Peñalver, Marie Rondón, Greasi Bolaños, Glexis Pastran, César Batiz and Sergio Moreno González - eight of whom were badly injured.

The journalists were staging a peaceful demonstration in the centre of Caracas against certain articles in a new education law concerning the media when they were attacked by militants shouting accusations that they were "defenders of the oligarchy." The media owned by the Cadena Capriles group include "Ultimas Notícias", Venezuela's leading daily.

President Hugo Chávez condemned the attack without reservation in a televised address shortly after Uzcátegui's arrest. He also condemned the 3 August violence against Globovisión, although the station is openly critical of him and he often accuses it of practicing "media terrorism" on the air.

The government's latest media legislation is proving very controversial. The national assembly recently rejected a bill that would have made media crimes punishable by up to four years in prison. But, on 13 August, it passed an education bill that incorporated some of the provisions of the previous bill concerning the media and "public decency" and "mental health."
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