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By Elisha Fieldstadt
A Telemundo correspondent in Venezuela was abducted by armed men and questioned for hours as he tried to cover the detention the previous night of another group of journalists in the presidential palace, according to the news network.
The Telemundo reporter, Daniel Garrido, was kidnapped early Tuesday by a group of unidentified men who “forced him into a vehicle and covered his head with a hood,” the network said in a statement. The men confiscated Garrido’s equipment and questioned him for six hours before freeing him. He was let go without any explanation and without his equipment, the statement said.
Garrido was covering the detention on Monday of Univision journalist Jorge Ramos and his crew, who were held against their will at the Miraflores Palace, according to a U.S. State Department official.
According to Univision, the team of five were held because President Nicolás Maduro “didn’t like the questions.”
Ramos said on Univision afterward he had showed Maduro footage of Venezuelan children searching for food in a garbage truck when the interview was called off and the crew’s equipment and footage was seized.
The six journalists were held for about two hours, spending some of that time in dark rooms, before they were released, Ramos said. Most of their equipment, including memory cards were taken from them, Ramos said, adding that he got his phone back, but it was wiped.
The team was expelled from Venezuela on Tuesday, Ramos said.
Maduro’s administration blamed the U.S. State Department for making up a “fake allegation with a show and spectacle.”
“At Miraflores hundreds of journalist have stopped by and received the decent treatment that we usually provide to those who come to do journalistic work and they have published the results of that work. We do not lend ourselves to cheap spectacles,” an administration statement said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the detainment of the crew and called on Venezuelan authorities to return the team’s equipment.
“Nicolás Maduro and his security apparatus have no right to hold journalists, or their equipment, hostage — no matter how much they may dislike a line of questioning,” said CPJ’s Central and South America Coordinator Natalie Southwick in a statement.
The committee also said Tuesday that they were investigating the kidnapping of Garrido and were “deeply concerned.”
The incidents come just weeks after CPJ on Jan. 25 issued a warning to journalists covering the crisis in Venezuela.
Many Venezuelans took to the streets in late January to demand an end to Maduro’s government after he was inaugurated to his second term. Tensions heightened when Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president.
Guaidó has the support of the U.S. and other Latin American and European countries, but Maduro has resisted any calls for elections or for stepping down.
Meanwhile, the country lacks basic food and medical supplies and has one of the world’s highest rates of inflation, but Maduro has rejected most offers of assistance, saying the efforts are part of a U.S.-orchestrated coup against him. He still has the support of the military, though some have defected in recent days.
“Military intelligence agents have detained journalists who were covering Guaidó, and intelligence agents have raided or shut down several media outlets reporting on the crisis,” CPJ warns in a statement on its website.
Last week, journalist Annika H. Rothstein was detained and robbed on the border of Venezuela and Colombia, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.