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Venezuela4 November 2005

Journalists attacked by armed students on university campus, some held hostage

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the use of violence by students, some armed with hand guns, against journalists with the regional Notitarde newspaper on 28 October when they went to cover the discovery of home-made bombs on the Carabobo university campus in the western city of Valencia. One of the journalists and her driver were briefly taken hostage.

“It is astonishing to hear of firearms and explosives on a university campus, and it is even more astonishing that the university authorities took so long to react,” the press freedom organisation said. “We hope a thorough investigation will lead to the punishment of those involved in the attack on the Notitarde team, and will determine whose action or negligence was to blame for this climate of violence.”

Five home-made bombs were discovered on the campus on the morning of 28 October after the rector received threatening phone calls the night before. One of these small bombs, hidden near the rector’s office, exploded, releasing leaflets criticising President Hugo Chávez’s “communist” government and his alliance with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but causing no damage or injuries.

A Notitarde team consisting of reporter Alecia Rodríguez del Valle, photographers Dorian González and Fernando Aguirre, and driver Jair Hurtado went to the social science and economy faculty where four of the five bombs had been found. They arrived just after a fight broke out between rival student groups. González began to take photographs but was attacked by several students. Some of them carried hand-guns, Notitarde told Reporters Without Borders.

González managed to flee as did Aguirre, at which point some of the armed students took Rodríguez and her driver hostage and threatened to kill them. Rodríguez was finally released after she said she worked for a newspaper from another state. She then used her mobile phone to try to get the driver, Hurtado, freed. A student warned her : “You have five minutes to hand over the photographer or his photos, or you will pay the consequences.” Hurtado was finally release after half an hour of negotiations.

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