Reporters Without Borders today condemned the use of violence by police against five journalists and the arbitrary arrests of three others on 30 May in Santiago, during the student protests that have shaken Chile in the past few days. While welcoming the disciplinary measures that have been taken by the authorities, the organisation warned that members of the police and gendarmerie were using methods inherited from the 1973-1990 military dictatorship.
“We welcome the dismissal of the chief of the police special forces following the violent crackdown on the student demonstrations,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We also hail the speed with which an enquiry was ordered into the way eight journalists became the victims of violence and arbitrary arrests.”
The organisation added: “These events nonetheless show that hostility towards the press continues persists with the security forces, which still carry the heritage of the military dictatorship. We hope President Michelle Bachelet’s government will learn the lessons of this experience.”
A massive demonstration on 30 May by university and secondary school students and teachers demanding educational reform turned into a riot near the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago. A violent charge by police and gendarmes resulted in 730 arrests, Agence France-Presse said, while dozens were injured.
Those injured included three TV cameramen - Marco Cabrera of Red TV, Gustavo Pavez of Canal 13 and Libio Saavedra of Canal 9 - who were beaten and stoned by gendarmes and one of them was beaten while on the ground although they were wearing armbands displaying the name of their news media.
Two newspaper photographers, Julio Castro and Fernando Fiedler of the daily Diario Financiero, were also injured after receiving the same kind of treatment. All five were taken to hospital, where a senior Santiago police officer went and took statements from them.
Julio Oliva, the editor of the weekly, and two of his journalists, Iván Valdes and Marcos Días, were also arrested in the same area and were forcibly taken to a police station where they were slapped and insulted. According to Oliva, gendarmes told them their links to the Chilean Communist Party (PCC) were a sufficient reason to hold them. The weekly had just posted online reports warning that the demonstrations could be infiltrated by plain-clothes gendarmes.
Reportedly angered by these events, President Bachelet had Col. Osvaldo Jara fired as head of the police special forces yesterday, while deputy interior minister Felipe Harboe announced an investigation into the use of violence against journalists.