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March 20, 2019

Polish reporter tells of being beaten by Venezuela police

Polish reporter tells of being beaten by Venezuela police
'Polish journalist Tomasz Surdel said he was grabbed by masked and armed members of the FAES special actions unit of the police in Caracas' - By: AFP/File JUAN BARRETO

A Polish journalist in Venezuela was beaten by police in the troubled South American country, he said in accounts published by his newspaper and Venezuela's press union on Friday.

The account added to a long list of allegations of brutality and arbitrary arrest of media workers in Venezuela, mostly targeting Venezuelans not working for state media but also increasingly foreign correspondents.

Tomasz Surdel, who has been in Venezuela for two months on assignment for Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza daily, said he was grabbed by masked and armed members of the FAES special actions unit of the police in Caracas.

The officers put a bag over his head and started hitting him with blunt objects in the head and ribs, he was cited as saying by the Venezuelan SNTP press union.

"When they finished and removed the bag I saw a pistol barrel in front of my eyes. One of them ordered the gun to be fired in my face. The other one, laughing, pulled the trigger. The gun wasn't loaded," Surdel was quoted saying.

The union published photos of Surdel's bloodied and bruised face.

His newspaper emphasized that the alleged police violence occurred as Surdel was carrying out his journalistic duties.

It urged "a strong reaction from the (Polish) foreign ministry and the Polish embassy in Caracas to the authorities" in Venezuela.

Venezuela's political tensions are bubbling over as President Nicolas Maduro grapples with a challenge to the country's leadership from Juan Guaido, the head of the opposition-run congress who has been recognized as interim president by the US and 50 other countries.

Security forces remain loyal to Maduro. But economic pressure is building as US sanctions on Venezuelan oil sales bite harder and the country's population struggles with scarcity of food and basic necessities.

Two weeks ago, the two biggest Spanish-language TV networks in the United States, Univision and Telemundo, condemned the brief detention of their reporters and crews after they interviewed Maduro.

Last week, a US journalist, Cody Weddle, who had worked in Venezuela for several years, was detained then deported after a 12-hour interrogation by military intelligence officers in Caracas.

An NGO backing freedom of expression in Venezuela, Espacio Publico, has counted around 50 detentions of news media employees in Venezuela so far this year.

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