It has been two months since the first day of the attempted coup in which 17 civilians died. Reporters without borders is concerned by the limited information available in the investigation into journalist Jorge Tortoza’s case. The organisation asks Venezuelan authorities to mobilise all necessary resources to identify and punish the individual, or individuals, who shot Tortoza (photos).
Reporters without borders is also concerned that on the same day, six other photographers and cameramen were injured. According to witnesses, journalists were targeted by police during the events of 11 April 2002. Moreover, authorities have failed to conclusively investigate any of the injured journalists’ cases.
Meanwhile, within the media, animosities persist between supporters and critics of President Chávez. Reporters without borders calls on the media to come together to demand that Tortoza’s death be investigated. Given that reporters injured on 11 April belong to media outlets with different political leanings, RSF notes that "impunity is everyone’s business."
As new rumors circulate in Caracas of yet another coup attempt, RSF strongly condemns the 11 April attempted coup that provoked Chávez’s fall during three days. Chávez was elected president in December 1998 and re-elected in July 2000. "Respecting the results of the electoral process is as important as respecting press freedom, they both constitute the pillars of democracy," said Reporters without borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard. Ménard also protested the censorship and pressure under which many private media workers found themselves as a result of Chávez’s orders on 11 April. The public media faced similar measures on 12 and 13 April at the hands of those who orchestrated the coup. On 12 April, some elements of the police (Policía Metropolitana), under Mayor Alfredo Peńa’s (opposition) control, prevented employees of the television station Venezolana de Televisión from broadcasting. The station supports President Chavez.
Jorge Tortoza: death of an experienced photographer
Tortoza, a photographer for the daily "Diario 2001", was killed on 11 April while covering demonstrations by Chávez opponents who were protesting against his administration’s policies. The protests led to the president’s temporary ouster. Tortoza was shot in the head by a 9mm bullet and seriously wounded while walking at the head of the procession. The photographer was taken to Vargas hospital and died shortly after being operated on, at approximately 9:00 p.m. (local time). Tortoza had worked for the newspaper for more than ten years and had previously worked in the judicial police’s photography laboratory.
Two months later, little is known about the investigation into Tortoza’s death. The three suspects detained momentarily after his death were members of the media group "Bloque de Armas", which owns "Diario 2001". The men were accused of stealing Tortoza’s camera, which they had taken in order to return it to the newspaper. On 12 April, an autopsy was carried out on Tortoza’s body. When Chávez returned to power, he assigned several new examining judges to the 11 April victims’ case. Since then, however, the investigations have proceeded very slowly. A chronicle of events was not completed until 26 April, two weeks after they occurred. Moreover, at least two witnesses have not been questioned; Amilcar Chourio, "Diario 2001" driver who accompanied Tortoza, and journalist Jenny Oropeza, who worked closely with Tortoza at "Diario 2001" and was with him for part of the day on 11 April.
The Venezuelan human rights organisation Cofavic is providing legal aid to the victims’ families. The organisation published a statement signed by family members denouncing "the lack of concrete results from the investigations." "We are not counting on any substantial information that could provide us with peace and confidence in our attempt to find justice," stated the families. They asked that "teams of international experts", who have "the expertise to shed light on" the deaths, be called in to investigate the cases. They also ask that "access be granted to the forensic medical exams," before calling on civil society to come together to "depoliticise" the crimes that have taken place. However, Cofavic recalled that Tortoza’s death was one of the few 11 April homicide cases to be re-enacted.
Orders to fire on journalists?
On 11 April, at least six photographers and cameramen were injured as they covered the opposition protest against Chávez. Jonathan Freitas, of the daily "Tal Cual", was wounded in the arm by a bullet. The bullet ended up becoming lodged in Freitas’ mobile telephone. José Antonio Dávila, a technician with a crew from the television station CMT, was shot in the knee as he took photographs of the protest. He told RSF that he believes the shots were directed at him. Another photographer stated that a soldier assigned to protect the presidential palace told her on 11 April, "Watch yourself because we have been given orders to shoot at anyone carrying a camera." Enrique Hernández, from the public news agency Venpres, Luis Enrique Hernández, from the daily "Avance", and Jorge Recio, assistant to free-lance photographer Nelson Carrillo, were also wounded by bullets from shots fired. According to a photographers’ collective launched a day after the events, Recio was shot in the spine and is paralysed as a result. Miguel Escalona, from the daily "El Carabobeńo", was beaten on the head with a baseball bat and his equipment was stolen. A Disip (political police) agent who was filming the protest was also shot and injured.