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Armed National Guard personnel enter newspaper's premises; police seize film footage from TV station

(IPYS/IFEX) - On the morning of 14 December 2009, around 15 National Guard armed officers led by Lieutenant Colonel Roque Carmona Nieves, the Barinas 4th Public Prosecutor Arlo Arturo Urquiola and an official from the National Customs and Tax Administration Service (SENIAT) entered the head offices of the newspaper "De Frente" in order to review the media outlet's legal documents. The incident took place in the state of Barinas, in southern Venezuela.

The review was conducted to determine whether the media outlet's assets belong to businessman Ricardo Fernández Barrueco. Fernández Barrueco is under investigation for irregularities at several banks he owns and has been detained at the Military Intelligence Authority's headquarters.

The inspection of the newspaper's facilities took place two days after National Guard General Luis Alberto Motta, the coordinator of the team in charge of recovering companies belonging to Fernández Barrueco, announced in a public conversation with President Hugo Chávez that a newspaper in the state of Barinas would come under review.

Journalists at the newspaper informed IPYS that Rubén Hernández is among the current owners of the newspaper. Hernández is a publicist who took part in the elections campaign for the current governor of Barinas, Adán Chávez.

The National Guard officers remained in the newspaper's offices for three days and finally left on 16 December. The media outlet continued working in the presence of the officers, who carried their weapons at all times.

IPYS is concerned about the length of time the officers were present in the media outlet's offices, which caused anxiety among the journalists who work there.

In a separate case, on 8 December officials from the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Departments (CICPC) who are investigating the death of a college student in protests that took place in Táchira state, southern Venezuela, seized audiovisual material produced by correspondents from the RCTV International television station. The footage was seized as evidence in the investigation into the killing of the student.

Journalist Yamile Jiménez, a correspondent for RCTV International in Táchira, said that the CICPC officials called her several times and threatened to break into her office if she failed to hand over the audiovisual material within 24 hours. Afterwards, they arrived at her office to seize the footage.

According to the journalist, the video footage could compromise certain individuals who shot at the demonstrators, resulting in the death of the one student in addition to another 10 people who were wounded. She, however, condemned the hostile manner in which the CICPC demanded the footage, by arriving at her office at night and acting aggressively.

While the officials were seizing the videos, they noticed that other journalists were present and were documenting their actions. They then demanded that Jiménez sign a letter stating that she had handed over the requested material.

The incident took place in the midst of student protests against fuel and electricity shortages and the death of their classmate.

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