SEBIN's War on Journalists' Sources

An active shooter at BCV, a mysterious video suicide-note, and SEBIN's rampage to try to figure out how it got out.

Official repression against journalists is growing big time in Venezuela. But the hegemon is now targeting the cornerstone of journalists’ work: their sources.

On July 23rd, journalist Roman Camacho was detained by SEBIN intelligence agents and released after seven hours of questioning. The following day, Yosselyn Torres got an “invitation” to SEBIN’s headquarters. In her case, she was held for four hours without legal counsel. The day after that, her collegue at Darvinson Rojas was questioned as well. But before leaving El Helicoide, Rojas was forced to surrender his cellphone without any judicial warrant.

What’s the common thread? It all comes down to a strange incident which took place at Venezuela’s Central Bank main offices on June 21st : an armed man waltzed into BCV and took hostages, demanding to speak with both Nicolas Maduro and BCV’s Chairman Nelson Merentes. The culprit was  killed by authorities after exchanging fire, leaving two other wounded.

The shooter, a 27-year old man named Juan David Oliveros García left a kind of video suicide-note saying he did what he did “for the people, for the hunger they’re are suffering”, and dismissing any claims of insanity. The video was made public, and SEBIN went on a holy crusade to figure out how it got out.

Right after his release, Camacho wrote on his Twitter account that SEBIN’s agents asked him about the video. SEBIN’s curiosity was later confirmed by Torres and Rojas themselves in interviews.

Stranger still is the seizure of Darvinson Rojas’ cellphone: According to him and his lawyer Marino Alvarado, SEBIN agents took it away after getting an alleged order from the prosecutor in charge of the investigation Heiker Campione. Both Campione and the Public Ministry denied this. Shortly after that, Campione was withdrawn from the case and his replacement promised to Rojas his phone would be returned in due time. As I write this, that has not happened yet.

For Carlos Correa, Director of NGO Espacio Publico, this is part of a larger pattern aganst journalism.

Here it has become normal that security forces takes reporters’ mobile phones away and violate their privacy making their work more difficult by erasing their information. This situation of harassment, with no respect for the rights established in the Constitution, is making journalistic work more complicated.

Even if the violation of the due process is concerning enough, what’s really revealing is the explicit persecution of journalistic sources, which have explicit constitutional protection in Article 28. But not just that, their own ethical code tells journalists that “professional secrets must never be revealed under any circumstances.”

Article 18 is quite clear about it: “A journalist whose source has asked to keep its identity secret must not reveal it under any circumstances and will respect the source’s decision, rejecting any form of pressure”.

What’s the government’s reaction? On one side, People’s Ombudsman Tarek William Saab shown his disapproval to the incidents and agree in principle with the legal protection to journalistic sources. But Diosdado Cabello attacked journalists that refuse to collaborate with authorities in his TV show.

About the complaints of alleged illegal detentions of some journalists to get them to reveal their sources… In these times of terrorism and hate speech, it’s important to reflect: First, How far can be the secrecy of journalistic sources, when a Venezuelan journalist is requested to cooperate in an investigation related to the security of the country and its institutions? Second, where’s the journalist’s responsibility in a case where the population’s general interest is at stake? And third, is really an obligation for a journalist under the source’s secrecy to not inform about an event that can affect the lives of other people. Just a thought.

Ahhhhh, I love getting lectured on ethics by this guy.