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Venezuela13 May 2004

Two journalists beaten up by military intelligence agents

Reporters Without Borders protested after two journalists from the daily El Universal were beaten up by military intelligence agents while they were covering a search operation.

The international press freedom organisation also condemned a search the following day at the home of media magnate Gustavo Cisneros.

Journalist Felix Carmona, photographer Jorge Santos and their driver Andrés Pérez Cova, were assaulted by agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia Militar (DIM) on 10 May 2004. They were on their way to cover a search at the home of deputy Rafael Marín of the opposition Democratic Action party at El Hatillo, in Oripoto, south-east of Caracas.

The journalists said they came across a truck carrying about 20 DIM agents, led by a hooded officer who identified himself as "Commandant Manuitt". The agents then insulted them, threatened them with guns, slapped and beat them with rifle butts. Santos was warned that the agents would shoot if he dared to take photos.

Their attackers also seized their ID cards and newspaper accreditation, along with their tape-recorder and camera. They then ripped out their car radio system. Before releasing them Commandant Manuitt threatened to kill them and their families if they said what happened.

"We urge you to immediately open an internal investigation on the basis of the El Universal journalists’ statements, so that the agents involved in this assault can be identified and punished," said Reporters Without Borders, in a letter to defence minister, Jorge Luis García Carneiro. "The confiscated equipment should also be promptly returned to the newspaper," it added.

The organisation said it was equally concerned about a search at the home of Gustavo Cisneros, owner of the media holding Grupo Cisneros, whom President Hugo Chávez recently dubbed an ’enemy of the people’. "We would like to know what led to this operation so as to be sure it was not an act of reprisal linked to the stance of the media controlled by Mr Cisneros" it added.

Despite the brutal attack, the DIM had allowed previously the two journalists to report without obstruction on a search of the home of former social-democratic president Carlos Andrés Pérez.

These searches are part of a wave of raids in east Caracas aimed at tracking down those responsible for the presence of 86 Colombian para-militaries captured by police in Hatillo on 9 May. According to a confession by one of them, they came for training ahead of launching anti-government actions. The opposition however believed it to be a ploy by the authorities.

As part of the same investigation, members of DIM, the Guardia Nacional and police criminal investigation officers searched the home of Gustavo Cisneros, chairman of Grupo Cisneros, Latin-America’s second largest media group that runs Venevisión in Venezuela.

The station is one of four major private TV channels in Venezuela, regularly slated as the "horseman of the apocalypse" by President Chávez because of their openly hostile stance towards him. The press magnate’s lawyers said the security forces seized an account book and family photos and videos. Cisneros denies all involvement in the presence of Colombian para-militaries in Venezuela.



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