31 August 2011

Police assault journalists covering protests

Journalists covering anti-corruption protests as well as demonstrations against Pope Benedict's four-day visit to Madrid have been met with police violence, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Freelance photographer Daniel Nuevo was covering protests in Madrid on 18 August against the Catholic Church-sponsored World Youth Days, which featured the Pope and attracted hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, when he was beaten by an anti-riot unit of the national police.

Grassroots church groups and civic organisations organised the demonstrations to denounce the "waste" incurred by the celebration, which is partly financed by government and corporate sponsors.

Nuevo writes about the attack and other incidents in his blog, where he has also posted several images.

Local press reports described at least five other cases of police verbal or physical abuse against journalists covering the protests, says CPJ.

Fernando González Urbaneja, president of Madrid Press Association, told CPJ that "the images we have seen show a worrying arbitrariness on behalf of certain policemen; there have been indefensible aggressions against journalists in the past days." The association and other press groups have taken their complaints to the government.

According to CPJ, the climate was already tense after Gorka Ramos, a journalist for the news website Lainformacion, was beaten and arrested while covering 15-M Movement protests in Madrid on 4 August.

The ongoing 15-M protests, which started on 15 May, have rallied millions of Spanish citizens in several cities who have protested against the current two-party system, unemployment and welfare cuts, and supported basic rights.

Ramos spent a night in jail and was charged with disobeying authorities, although video shows aggression by at least seven anti-riot police officers.

González said relationships between the police and the media are generally good in Spain. "What we have seen are intolerable episodes of individual policemen exceeding their authority," she said.

Perhaps so, but CPJ warns that with general elections due in November amid the economic crisis, "the social climate could be further tested - as could police relations with the press."

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