Reporter and cameraman Andrés Eloy Nieves Zacarías was shot dead when at least 10 heavily-armed members of Venezuela’s Special Action Forces (FAES) burst into the recording studio of La Guacamaya TV, a local TV station located in the home of the station’s director, Frankie Torres, in Cabimas, in the northwestern state of Zulia, on 21 August. They also shot dead Torres’ son, Víctor Torres.
A few hours after the raid, the FAES said the two victims were members of a “criminal gang” – a claim immediately denied by the families of the victims.
This double murder came just three days after the body of José Carmelo Bislick, a teacher and presenter on local Radio Omega 94.1 FM, was found at a roadside in Güiria, a town in the northeastern state of Sucre, on 18 August. Bislick had recently drawn attention to cases of corruption in Güiria involving extortion and trafficking (in fuel, drugs and people).
“We are appalled by these acts of unspeakable violence, whose victims included two journalists exercising their right to inform, and we ask the Venezuelan police and judicial authorities to conduct impartial investigations to identify the perpetrators and instigators,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.
“We also point out that state censorship, arbitrary arrests and violence against journalists – of which the perpetrators include the police and intelligence services – continue to take place throughout the country and to pose a serious threat to the freedom of expression.”
La Guacamaya TV supports President Nicolás Maduro’s government, while Bislick was an active member of Maduro’s ruling Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). The fact that both victims supported government policy is unusual. In most cases, it is independent journalists or journalists critical of the government who are the targets of attacks.
According to Espacio Público, a Venezuelan NGO, there have been at least 270 attacks against journalists and 686 violations of the right to free speech in Venezuela since the start of the year. The Covid-19 crisis, compounded by frequent orchestrated restrictions on Internet access, has made it extremely difficult for independent journalists to cover the news.
Venezuela is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.