Venezuelan authorities should immediately release NTN24 staffers Luis Gonzalo Pérez and Rafael Hernández and ensure that members of the media can work without fear of arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.
At about 12:30 p.m. yesterday, Venezuelan National Guard officers detained Pérez, a reporter, and Hernández, a camera operator, while they were on assignment for the privately owned Colombian cable television outlet NTN24 covering an ongoing military conflict in the area of La Victoria, in the state of Apure, which borders Colombia, according to news reports and Edgar Cárdenas, secretary-general of the Caracas division of the National Union of Journalists, a local trade organization, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
The officers also arrested Juan Salazar and Diógenes Tirado, two local activists from the non-governmental organization Fundaredes, who were assisting the NTN24 team in their reporting, according to those reports.
“Venezuelan authorities must immediately release NTN24 journalists Luis Gonzalo Pérez and Rafael Hernández, as well as local rights activists Juan Salazar and Diógenes Tirado, and ensure their safety while reporting in a conflict zone,” said CPJ South and Central America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “It is alarming that the Venezuelan National Guard can detain journalists and not provide any information on their status and whereabouts.”
At about 4:30 p.m., Pérez and Hernández contacted NTN24 and said that the National Guard officers had reviewed their identification documents and recorded footage, and told them they would be released, their equipment returned, and that they would be allowed to continue reporting in the area, according to those reports.
However, the journalists have not been heard from since then, according to reporting by NTN24 and a video by Fundaredes spokesperson Javier Tarazona.
At about 6 p.m., the National Guard transferred Pérez, Hernández, and the activists to the Sorocaima military fort in the city of Guasdualito, according to Cárdenas and a tweet by the National Union of Press Workers, a local press freedom organization.
In a report, NTN24 noted that journalists working in conflict areas are considered civilians under international law.
Over the past weeks, violence has broken out between the Venezuelan armed forces and dissident combatants formerly with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group over control of territory on the Colombian border, according to news reports.
When CPJ called the Venezuelan National Guard for comment, the person who answered said she was not authorized to provide any “intelligence” information and declined to comment on the case.
Today, the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense published a statement providing an update on the situation in Apure, which did not explicitly mention the NTN24 team but alleged that “media scoundrel[s] deploy their dirty manipulations to stoke violence in Alto Apure.”