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Venezuela8 July 2005

Photographers subjected to intimidation and violence by politician, military intelligence

Reporters Without Borders wrote to Venezulean state prosecutor Isaías Rodríguez today objecting to the use of threats and force against photographers Cirilo Hernández of the Últimas Noticias daily newspaper and Juan Carlos Neida of the El Nuevo País daily in separate incidents on 29 June in Caracas, and urging him to put an end to "bullying" of the press.

"A pro-government politician and presumed military intelligence officers made unacceptable use of intimidation and violence against journalists simply because they were taking photos," the organisation wrote. "Repeated behaviour of this kind, carried out with impunity, is intolerable and it falls to you as state prosecutor to bring it to an end by punishing those responsible," the letter added.

In one incident, Hernández and an Últimas Noticias colleague, Mabel Sarmiento, were intercepted on Andrés Eloy Blanco Square, near the Miraflores presidential palace as they were preparing a report about homeless people.

The Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, a press freedom organisation, obtained a description of the incident from Sarmiento. She said several individuals began to insult them and threatened to hit them and take their cameras away. One of them said the square was under the control of Lina Ron, a politician closely allied with President Hugo Chávez, and no photos could be taken without Ron’s permission.

They took the two journalists by force to an office and held them there until Ron arrived two hours later. Ron confirmed that no photos could be taken on the square without her permission. When Sarmiento said she would write about this incident in Últimas Noticias, Ron replied: "Write what you like, no one will believe you, you will be just one more lying journalist."

In the second incident, four men in a jeep carrying Department of Military Intelligence passes intercepted Neida as he was taking photos in the Las Mercedes district of Caracas. When he showed them his press ID, he was hit several times and insulted and then bundled into the jeep. After being held for eight hours in the jeep as it toured the city, he was dropped off late at night in Cota Mil, a deserted eastern district at the foot of El Ávila mountain.

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