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Chile18 July 2008

Police say they have identified officer who seriously injured photographer Víctor Salas, but decline to name him

Reporters Without Borders today gave a cautious welcome to a police announcement yesterday that they have identified the officer who attacked photographer Victor Salas. Head of the ‘Carabineros’ police in Valparaiso, Gen. Jaime Vasconcellos, said that the name and rank of the officer suspected of seriously injuring the journalist working for the Spanish news agency EFE have been given to military justice. The photographer’s lawyer, Alfredo Morgado on 11 July asked for the investigation to be handed over to the municipal police. Gen Vasconcellos has made no objection to this request. Salas was left with a serious eye injury after a mounted police officer struck him with a metal riding crop while he was covering a demonstration in front of the Congress in Valparaiso on 21 May this year.

“Providing the name of a suspect is not the same thing as convicting him. Why are the Carabineros staying silent about the identity of Victor Salas’s alleged attacker?”, the worldwide press freedom organisation asked. If the news is confirmed we hope that justice will be done promptly. We also wish Victor Salas a speedy recovery,” it added.

12.07.08 - Carabineros seem to be playing for time in case of injured EFE photographer

Reporters Without Borders is not satisfied with the promises given by Chile’s “Carabinero” police to punish some of its members for a physical attack on photographer Víctor Salas of the Spanish news agency EFE while he was covering a protest on 21 May in the western city of Valparaíso.

EFE reports that there has been talk of disciplining “seven or eight” (or even “nine,” in some versions) of the officers on duty at the demonstration.

In a letter to EFE’s management, the Carabineros said they had identified the mounted police officer who struck Salas with a metal riding crop, seriously wounding him in the right eye. But when the Union of Photographers and Cameramen sent photos of the officer involved to the Carabinero command (see photo below), the command curiously said it could not name him.

“We continue to find the behaviour of the Carabineros in this case to be suspicious,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Aside from the fact that, although given a photo, they seems unable to say if one of their men has been identified or not, why do they now talk of disciplining several officers and why are they unable to give an exact number? They seem to be trying to gain time instead of giving the appropriate sanction to the officer concerned.”

EFE’s bureau chief in Chile, Manuel Fuentes, told Reporters Without Borders that Salas is soon to undergo a third operation to his eye which is likely to determine what level of sight he will be able to recover.


02.07.08 - Mounted police officer who struck photographer in face with whip still not identified

Reporters Without Borders today voiced its disquiet at the slowness of the investigation into an assault on photographer Victor Salas, who suffered a very serious eye injury while covering a demonstration in Valparaiso, western Chile on 21 May. A mounted police officer struck the photographer, of Spanish news agency EFE, in the face with a metal riding whip. Doctors who operated on him feared he would suffer a functional and organic loss of sight in the right eye. Despite promises from senior officers, the police officer has not been identified, one and a half months after the assault, Radio Nuevo Mundo reported.

“The investigation should not be so difficult to carry out. The police command must necessarily have a list of all those on duty at the Valparaiso demonstration on 21 May”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “It is intolerable that after a month and a half, the perpetrator of the assault on Víctor Salas has not yet been identified and summoned. Esprit de corps should not shield anyone from justice and we call on the government to intervene”, it added.

22.05.08 - Photographer risks losing eye after being hit by policeman during protest

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the way a policeman on horseback struck photographer Víctor Salas several times with a metal riding crop while he was covering a protest yesterday in Valparaíso, a city to the west of Santiago. Salas, who works for the Spanish news agency EFE, has been hospitalised and risks using the use of his right eye as a result of the blows.

“Unfortunately this is not the first time that the Chilean security forces have used violence against the news media while maintaining order,” the press freedom organisation said. “We support the call by EFE’s Santiago bureau for the policeman who hit Salas to be identified and punished. How could a law enforcement officer have behaved with such lack of judgment? The investigation should seek the answer to this question.”

Yesterday’s incident occurred while political and union activists, students and health workers were staging a march near the national assembly building in Valparaíso during a visit by President Michelle Bachelet to address parliamentarians. Gen. Jaime Vasconcelos, the head of the local mounted police unit, was quoted in press reports as saying the clashes took place when demonstrators tried to get through security barriers. Three people were injured in the course of the police operation and around 100 arrests were made.

Salas, who was photographing the events, was hit in the eye and over the eye by a riding crop during a mounted police charge. He was rushed to a hospital in the nearby town of Viña del Mar where doctors diagnosed “severe bruising to the right eye, with risk of functional and organic loss, and uncertain prognosis.”

EFE bureau chief Manuel Fuentes said he would bring an legal action against the police. The high command of the mounted police promised to carry out an internal investigation.

Eight journalists were injured, some of them seriously, when the police used violence to disperse student demonstrators outside the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago on 30 May 2006. Six months later, journalists were physically attacked by supporters of former dictator Augusto Pinochet in the wake of his death on 10 December 2006. President Bachelet condemned these attacks and called for the culprits to be prosecuted.

Salas was last year’s winner of the national prize for news photography, awarded annually by the Chilean Association of Photographers and Visual Reporters.

In this country
6 June - Chile
Letter to President Bachelet about documentary filmmaker held for past month
2 April - Chile
Supreme court rescinds controversial restrictions on press reporting
13 December - Chile
Reporters Without Borders condemns attacks on press by Pinochet supporters
1 June - Chile
Eight journalists fall victim to police crackdown on student demo
29 November - Chile
TV crew beaten up outside house party for celebrity

in the annual report
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Chile - Annual report 2006

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