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Foreign correspondent assaulted, detained while covering student protest in Venezuela

Anti-government protesters clash with a member of the National Guard during a protest in San Cristobal, 18 March 2014.
Anti-government protesters clash with a member of the National Guard during a protest in San Cristobal, 18 March 2014.

REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

On July 3, 2014, Gonzalo Ruiz, correspondent for Colombian news channel NTN24, was assaulted and later detained for about 20 minutes by National Bolivarian Police officers (PNB) when they were fulfilling information functions during face-offs between protesters, students of the Universidad Católica del Táchira (UCAT) and police corps officers. This happened in San Cristóbal, the capital of Táchira state, southwest Venezuela.

Ruiz told IPYS that he was covering a confrontation among PNB officers and a group of protesters, when a unit commander of that police corps approached the reporter and asked him what media he worked for. Although the reporter identified himself as an employee of the Colombian news channel, the police officer stripped him of his press credentials and ordered his arrest.

It is worth mentioning that this official, whose surname is García, threatened to report Ruiz at the public prosecutor´s office for association to commit a crime, to which the reporter replied that he would also file a lawsuit against him.

Several police officers approached the reporter and stripped him of his camera and vest, and started to walk from the adjacent area to Universidad Católica del Táchira (UCAT) to the local governor´s house. During this time, the reporter received a blow to the front part of his right thigh.

A few meters after starting to walk, Ruiz recalled that another police official that was present recognized him as a press worker and took him on his motorcycle to the government site.

The reporter assured us that once there, security officials detained him for twenty minutes at the gates of the main entrance. Ruiz also recalled that these officials admitted that they recognized him as a press worker, but due to orders from above they were not permitted to set him free.

This is the second assault suffered by correspondent Gonzalo Ruiz in six weeks, after officials of that same police corps kept him in custody when he was covering another confrontation which took place on May 28, 2014 in the same sector.

The reporter emphasized that the spaces for information are increasingly narrowing in the nation, and recalled that only a group of reporters, like Manuel Cardozo of radio AM Ecos del Torbes; Leandro Lobo of Caraota Digital media and Luisa Parada and Andrés Rodríguez of Diario Los Andes are covering the recurrent face-offs in that state.

Ruiz asserted that the police officials paid no heed to the words of governor José Vielma Mora who, during the celebration of the Dr. Ramón J. Velásquez Regional Journalism Prize last June 30, expressed “freedom of expression is not in chains”.

The reporter received support from staff at the Venezuelan Criminal Forum (Foro Penal Venezolano) and the National College of Journalists -Táchira section, and stated that he would file a complaint at the public prosecutor´s office.

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