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Regional television station journalist threatened with kidnapping

(IPYS-Venezuela/IFEX) - 21 March 2012 - On 15 March 2012, Sara Vargas, a journalist for Órbita TV, received a threat by way of a telephone call as she hosted her live television programme. Later on she was threatened again via a letter that was personally delivered to her. The incidents took place in the city of El Tigre, in Anzoátegui state, eastern Venezuela.

Vargas, who is an anchor for the regional television station, received the telephone call on 15 March as she was presenting the morning news. The caller, who did not identify himself, asked to speak to her. Vargas said that when she took the call someone with a distorted male voice told her, "Shut up, you will be the next to be kidnapped." She asked the person to identify himself, but he simply repeated the message, then hung up.

Vargas, along with Fernando Zaurín, the owner of the television station, had been commenting on the news of two kidnappings that had taken place in El Tigre.

Then, around 12:30 p.m. on the same day, Vargas received a second call via another of the television station's telephone lines in which the same warning was repeated. Vargas subsequently called the head of the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Department (CICPC) in El Tigre, Alexis Espinoza, to file a complaint and was referred to the Public Prosecutor's Office. Public Prosecutor Mariet Salazar received the complaint and issued a request for the Anzoategui regional police to provide the journalist with protection. To date, this protection has not been provided.

Subsequently, on 16 March, Vargas arrived at the television station at her normal time of 5:30 a.m. When she was about to enter the station, an older man whom she had never seen before gave her a piece of paper and then ran away. A note written on the paper stated, "I will kidnap you even if it costs me my life." The directors of the station then contacted the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN), to call for an investigation into the case. They also went once again to the Public Prosecutor's Office, where Vargas provided a statement and handed the threatening note over to the authorities.

Judge Freya Ron issued a request for protective measures for Vargas, pursuant to Article 188 of the Penal Code of Venezuela, and ordered that the area where the journalist lives and works be patrolled on a daily basis. Anzoategui State Police Captain Elis González was informed of the order but, as of 20 March, no action had been taken.

Circuito Órbita is based in El Tigre and consists of a regional television station and several radio stations. It has been targeted by the regional government since 2008 because of its critical stance with respect to the Chávez government. Circuito Órbita television and radio stations in the northern part of the state, in the cities of Barcelona and Puerto La Cruz, were shut down by the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) in 2009.

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