Venezuelan journalist arrested by special forces following coronavirus coverage
Bolivarian National Guards use a water cannon to spray disinfectant as a preventive measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 21, 2020. (AP/Matias Delacroix)
Miami, March 22, 2020 — Venezuelan authorities must immediately release journalist Darvinson Rojas and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus outbreak in the country without fear of retribution, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
“Authorities in Venezuela must ensure the immediate release of journalist Darvinson Rojas,” said CPJ South and Central America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Violently detaining a journalist and interrogating him about his sources on a vital public health issue like the COVID-19 outbreak has an undeniable chilling effect that will only discourage other journalists from reporting on the pandemic.”
Rojas, a freelance journalist who publishes his reporting to his social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, was detained yesterday around 9:00 p.m. at his home in Caracas by agents of the Special Action Forces of the national police (FAES), the Venezuelan press freedom associations National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) and Espacio Público reported on Twitter.
Around 8:30 p.m. yesterday, Rojas posted several tweets reporting that a group of armed and masked FAES agents had arrived at his home and told him to accompany them to their headquarters, claiming that they received an anonymous call that Rojas might be infected with COVID-19. Rojas’ parents, who were detained along with him, were released shortly afterwards, according to SNTP.
Rojas’s father Jesús Rojas told local journalist Daniel Colina that while detained at FAES headquarters in La Quebradita, he could hear agents interrogating his son, asking him about the source of his reporting on COVID-19 cases in the state of Miranda, which he had posted previously on Twitter.
Around 9:00 a.m. today, Rojas’s parents went to FAES headquarters to inquire after their son. Agents informed them that he was not there, according to SNTP and Espacio Público. Rojas’s whereabouts were unknown until approximately 12:00 p.m. today, when, after visiting several prisons and police offices in Caracas, his relatives and human rights advocates were finally able to locate him at the offices of FAES located in Caricuao, where he remains detained, according to SNTP.