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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Press groups condemn attack on journalists at airport

Several journalists were in the perimeter established by the police as protesters shouted insults, attempted to intimidate and even physically attacked the journalists, the press groups said.

By John McPhaul

The Puerto Rico Journalists Association, the Puerto Rico Photojournalists Association and the Overseas Press Club condemned the physical and verbal attacks against photojournalists and reporters on Tuesday night in Caguas while exercising their duties in the coverage of an intervention in which the Puerto Rico Police Bureau and the Department of Health executed an arrest warrant against citizens who had refused to complete the traveler’s information document at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina.

Four photojournalists, three reporters, and a news producer were verbally and physically assaulted and unable to carry out their work when a score of protesters arrived in support of the suspects, who were identified in local press reports as Zulma Figueroa, 53, and Luis Ángel Colón, 44. The journalists were in the perimeter established by the police as the protesters hurled insults while chasing and trying to intimidate the journalists, the groups said. Some even caused damage to property and physically attacked the journalists.

“This type of aggression is unacceptable, no matter who it comes from,” said Josian Bruno, president of the Photojournalists Association. “Freedom of expression is a constitutional right, but it cannot justify the attempt to restrict other rights such as freedom of the press. What happened there was a direct attack on journalists that could be observed live through images on television. The verbal and physical aggression against our colleagues is a reprehensible act.”

In the same way that citizens have the right to demonstrate, journalists are also empowered by the Constitution to exercise their work free of coercion or intimidation, the three organizations said.

“Reporters and photojournalists are like any worker. We understand and accept that our profession exposes us to finding ourselves in the midst of difficult and sometimes violent conflicts in which we can suffer collaterally,” Press Association President Damaris Suárez said. “What is unacceptable are the violent attacks specifically directed at our colleagues when they are only fulfilling their duty to inform the people.”

Luis Guardiola, president of the Overseas Press Club, said “we call on law enforcement authorities to take measures that allow the free exercise of our informative work, while safeguarding the rights of citizens to demonstrate guaranteeing the physical integrity, life and property of all.”

He also called on news directors to raise a similar demand to the authorities and adopt security measures that protect their journalists in such situations.

The three organizations reiterated that no incident will prevent the press from fulfilling its responsibility.

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