Brazilian reporter detained in Venezuela said he was treated as a criminal for doing his job
Journalist Leandro Stoliar of Rede Record, who was detained in Venezuela while reporting on allegations of corruption, said he was treated "as a prisoner, a criminal" during the 30 hours he was detained. Stoliar said the press is not free to work in the country, where "information is a crime."
“The government needs to understand that the work of the press is important for everyone, including for it. What happens in Venezuela is a military dictatorship. The government does not want anyone speaking ill of the regime, which keeps the people in poverty and enriches politicians. That’s why information is a crime,” he told the Knight Center.
Stoliar was detained on Feb. 11 along with his colleague, video journalist Gilson Souza, on the outskirts of the Nigale Bridge over Lake Maracaibo, in the northwestern part of the country. The two were taping a report when they were approached by agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin), according to Stoliar.
They were arrested along with Venezuelans José Urbina and María José Túa, coordinators of the Maracaibo chapter of nonprofit Transparency Venezuela. After diplomatic negotiations, the reporters were released and arrived in Brazil on Feb. 13. The duo were in the country to make a report on deviations of funds and overpriced works of Brazilian contractors abroad, such as Odebrecht.
According to Stoliar, the journalists’ car was stopped by agents at the exit from the lake. “We thought it was a robbery because they were armed and in plain clothes. They identified themselves and led us to Sebin’s headquarters. They gave no explanation,” he said. The reporters followed, escorted, in their own car.
Stoliar sent a message through WhatsApp to Brazil as soon as they were approached by agents. Then, the journalists had a camera, computer and cell phones confiscated. The reporters spent more than 30 hours in detention.
“We stayed in an enclosed room, with armchairs and a bathroom without water,” Stoliar said. The journalist said he was not physically assaulted, but kept under constant surveillance, even while using the bathroom. “I felt like a prisoner, a criminal,” he recalled. From Sebin’s headquarters, the reporters were taken to a hotel at night. Throughout this period they were unable to make phone calls.
“The police wanted to come into the room with us. So we spent the night in the lobby awake,” Stoliar said.
The journalists were then taken to Caracas in a twin-engine airplane with armed men in balaclavas, according to Stoliar’s account. In the capital, they were taken to another Sebin interrogation room at the airport.
Stoliar said that despite the difficult conditions, treatment was better in Maracaibo. In Caracas, according to him, they were cursed and harassed. “We were called terrorists of the homeland. I feared [for my life]. They threatened to keep us imprisoned forever.”
Although the journalists’ material was confiscated, the story will be shown as part of a series of Jornal da Record reports on stalled works financed by Brazil’s BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development) in other countries.
According to Stoliar, both traveled by plane and identified themselves as journalists when they entered Venezuela. The reporter said that he had never been to the country for work and that, if he wants to return, he must notify the Venezuelan consulate in Brazil.
The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said, by release, that it acted for the release of the journalists. “Since being informed [...] of the reporters’ detention, the Brazilian government, on the instructions of President Michel Temer himself, acted with the Venezuelan authorities to have them promptly released."
Several organizations condemned the detention of the reporters, like the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji). “Abraji considers the detention of the journalists during the production of a report to be absurd, an attack on freedom of expression and of the press.[...] Abraji also hopes that the Brazilian government will demand explanations from Venezuela,” the organization said, via a release.
Other organizations, like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) specifically called “on the government of President [Nicólas] Maduro to put an end to this systematic practice of obstructing news coverage and to stop interfering with the work of the press.”
In addition to the detention of Stoliar and Souza, the organization mentioned that Maduro recently demanded at a rally that CNN en Español leave Venezuela. On Feb. 15, CNN was kicked out of the country by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel).
Further, Stoliar and Souza aren’t the first international journalists to be detained in Venezuela in the last year. Foreign correspondents have been blocked from entering Venezuela ahead of mass protests twice in September and October 2016 and again on Jan. 23, 2017.
- Journalists reporting on Venezuelan crisis risk temporary and prolonged detentions
- Venezuelan authorities detained U.S. correspondent for almost 48 hours
- Venezuelan soldiers beat and detain Colombian journalists during protests
- Venezuelan intelligence agency detains Argentine journalist accused of spying
- Venezuelan president blames U.S. media for misrepresenting the country, plotting overthrow of government