The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and journalists, vehemently condemned an alleged assault by Venezuelan security forces on Tomasz Surdel, correspondent of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza in Caracas. Surdel has been reporting on anti-government protests in Venezuela since the beginning of February.
According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Surdel was severely beaten by members of the Venezuelan special police unit FAES on the evening of March 14. The attack reportedly took place when Surdel was stopped while driving through the Bello Monte district in Caracas.
The newspaper told IPI that Surdel presented his passport to the police as requested, who communicated over a radio and ordered him to step out of the vehicle. As Surdel did so, he was overpowered, and his face covered with a black hood. Police officers then beat him, injuring his face and ribs.
Police in #Venezuela brutally beat #Poland journalist Tomasz Surdel, correspondent for @gazeta_wyborcza. IPI condemns horrific assault and demands those responsible be held to account. @JaroslawKurski @romanimielski @Bart_Wielinski @PolandMFA https://t.co/bDAcROVv8c pic.twitter.com/luc28GzF03
— IPI (@globalfreemedia) March 15, 2019
Gazeta Wyborcza reported that officers then removed Surdel’s hood, held a pistol close to his face and pulled the trigger to simulate an execution. They then left the scene, abandoning Surdel on the street.
“We strongly condemn the brutal attack on Tomasz Surdel as an unacceptable act of violence”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The attack illustrates the growing risks to journalist safety in Venezuela.”
He added: “Venezuela must immediately hold those responsible for this horrific assault to account, and we urge the Polish government to exert diplomatic pressure on Venezuela to ensure that this occurs.”
Redakcja “Wyborczej”: Oczekujemy stanowczej reakcji MSZ i Ambasady RP w Caracas w sprawie pobicia Tomasza Surdela https://t.co/mF3CnvFcxW
— Gazeta Wyborcza.pl (@gazeta_wyborcza) March 15, 2019
IPI has consistently demanded that the Venezuelan government ensure the safety of local and foreign journalists and refrain from harassing them for their critical, independent reporting.
The assault on Surdel occurred in a rapidly worsening environment for journalists in Venezuela. According to media reports, police arrested three journalists from the Spanish news agency EFE on Wednesday, January 30. They were later released and deported. Prominent Venezuelan journalist Luis Carlos Díaz was detained by police on March 12 but released later with a ban on travelling out of the country. Earlier, on March 6, U.S. journalist Cody Weddle was detained. In February, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, along with his crew, was detained and deported soon after interviewing President Maduro.
Gazeta Wyborcza said Surdel was a long-time correspondent with specific experience on South American issues. The paper said he had contributed nine detailed reports on the situation in Venezuela since February 2018.