Two Venezuelan journalists from the Colombian channel NTN24 were detained for 24 hours while covering the conflict between the Venezuelan Army and the alleged FARC dissidents in Alto Apure, more than 770 kilometers from Caracas, in southern Venezuela. Luis Gonzalo Pérez and Rafael Hernández were accompanied by Juan Carlos Salazar and Diógenes Tirado, activists from FundaRedes, an NGO that has been documenting the presence of irregular armed groups in the Colombian-Venezuelan border corridor. They crossed by canoe from Arauquita, in Colombia – where more than 4,000 displaced people have arrived in the last 10 days – to the town of La Victoria, on the Venezuelan side, which has been the scene of the clashes.
From the television channel and FundaRedes they reported that they had news of them for the last time at 4.30 in the afternoon on Wednesday. At that time they were held in a National Guard post. Officials asked reporters to review the material they had recorded on their computers. After that, no more was heard of the group for 20 hours until this Thursday, when the National Press Union denounced that they were in Fort Sorocaima de Guasdualito, two hours by road from where they were arrested, and demanded their release. 24 hours after their arrest, they were released without presenting them to court. The director of FundaRedes, Javier Tarazona, assured that they took away their telephone and recording equipment as well as their documentation.
As in other arbitrary detentions, in this case there was a practice denounced by the United Nations High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet: the journalists and activists were missing for hours and held incommunicado. The director of NTN24, Claudia Gurisatti, recalled in a press release in which she demanded the release that the work of the media in armed conflicts is protected by International Humanitarian Law.
In the history of hostility between Chavismo and the media, NTN24 has a particular chapter. In 2014 Nicolás Maduro ordered the National Telecommunications Commission to take him off the air. Private cable operators in Venezuela removed it from programming during coverage of the government protests that year along with other Colombian channels such as Caracol and RCN, which remain unseen on pay TV packages in Venezuela. The NTN24 website is also blocked in the country and can only be accessed via VPN. The same happens with other international news portals such as Time from Colombia or Infobae.
Meanwhile, violence has continued to escalate in Apure. On the same Wednesday that the journalists were detained, First Sergeant Andriel Istúriz Sojo and Second Sergeant Jesús Alexander Vásquez Pérez died, bringing the number of military casualties to four since the fighting began on March 21. In a statement from the Ministry of Defense, it states that the officers died after the detonation of a mine while on patrol in the El Ripial sector. The Venezuelan government assures that “it has neutralized nine terrorists.” It also reports 31 detainees and the dismantling of nine camps of the irregular groups, one of them an alleged cocaine paste processing laboratory.
In the same statement, published hours after the journalists were arrested, the media were told of “fueling violence” in the area. “While the residents of La Victoria return from Arauquita to their homes, it is observed how the operators of the media scoundrel deploy their dirty manipulations to stoke the violence in Alto Apure,” the text reads. This Thursday the teams from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that were providing care to the populations of the area withdrew. “Due to the situation, the previous activities of humanitarian actors in La Victoria, with some exceptions such as the Venezuelan Red Cross, they are suspended ”, indicated the United Nations.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.