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Venezuela: Armed men assault El Nacional news crew

Reuters/Jorge Silva

On April 26, 2014, four employees of El Nacional, a privately owned newspaper that circulates nationwide, were assaulted in the vicinity of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV), specifically at the gas station located in the corner to one side of the UBV, in the Los Chaguaramos urbanization of Caracas, the nation's capital. This happened a few minutes before 11 a.m.

Journalist Maru Morales informed IPYS Venezuela that a news crew, comprised of herself, journalist Maolis Castro and photojournalists Omar Veliz and William Dumont, were assaulted by several men dressed as civilians who attacked the vehicle the 4 press workers were in. A chauffeur named Francisco Zambrano was also with them.

At about 10:50 am, the news crew was in the vicinity of UBV to cover news of a student group that was to gather there. When the reporters realized that nobody was there, a passerby told them that the gathering had been moved to Ciudad Banesco, so they got into the vehicle that transported them and tried to make a turn at the PDV gas station located in the vicinity of the university.

At that moment, several men dressed as civilians approached the car in an aggressive manner and – in plain view of all passersby – hit the car and yelled demanding that the photographic cameras' film be handed to them at the same time as attempting to forcefully snatch photographer William Dumont's photography equipment.

Morales recalled that although none of the reporters or the vehicle had any visible identification of the newspaper, one of the subjects indicated to the rest: “Heckle them, Heckle them, they are from El Nacional!”. One other man opened the back door of the car and showed the weapon he was wearing on his pant belt to the photographer Véliz, and at the same time asked him to give him his camera.

Dumont's photographic camera's memory card was taken away from him. One of the men hit him hard in the face twice and injured him in the mouth, causing it to bleed. Afterwards, one other man broke the back window of the car with a blunt object.

The female journalist said that the aggression took place a few meters away from a contingent of National Bolivarian Guard (GNB) standing nearby as well as the Peoples' Guards. She said that the military men were in anti-mutiny gear inside the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, with a good view of the place where the attack took place, but that no officer made any effort whatsoever to stop or disperse the assault.

Afterwards, the vehicle that was carrying the reporter crew went in the direction of Bello Monte to Ciudad Banesco, from where the march they wanted to cover was to leave. When the car reached the stoplight in the west façade of Banesco, two officers of the National Bolivarian Police (PNB), with weapons in their hands, stopped the car. The police officers ordered the driver and photojournalist William Dumont to step out of the car. Morales, Castro and Véliz had stepped out seconds before, with their hands held up high. When all the reporters had identified themselves, the policemen explained to them that a lady had denounced that the persons inside that car had stolen some photographic cameras.

Although the reporters told the PNB that minutes before, a few blocks away, they had been mugged and assaulted, the police officers left the site without taking down the corresponding complaint.

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