Two journalists attacked, news van vandalized while covering Puerto Rico protests
Two journalists for NotiCentro WAPA-TV were attacked while covering protests in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 23, 2020.
According to translations made available to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, reporter Kefrén Velázquez and photojournalist Luis Ojeda were covering protests against Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and her administration in Old San Juan.
Shortly after police fired a canister of tear gas toward the crowd around 11 p.m., the station’s news vehicle was attacked. Aneditorial by NotiCentro News Director Rafael Lenín López detailed the event, and a photo published by the outlet shows damage to the side mirrors and windshield, as well as spray painted messages on the hood and side door.
Newspaper Primera Hora reported that Velázquez interceded when individuals attempted to set the car on fire. Though Velázquez was able to stop the vandals, others threw stones at him. The individuals also reportedly attacked Ojeda with a piece of wood. Ojeda's assault is documented here.
In an interview with his station the following morning, Velázquez said that police officers did not act quickly to protect them from the riot. However, eventually the Special Forces lined up in front of him and Ojeda.
“There were two completely different environments,” Velázquez said. “During the afternoon hours, I walked with the demonstrators and colleagues Sylvia Verónica Camacho, producer Erika Martínez and Luis Ojeda. We walked with them until we reached La Fortaleza and by then everyone was chanting and dancing.”
Velázquez said that he wouldn’t describe the people who attacked him and Ojeda later that evening as demonstrators.
“I will call them ‘individuals’ because they were certainly not the people we saw before,” Velázquez said. He added that the attackers had hammers and baseball bats, not the pans or cowbells used during the march.
The reporter tweeted a thank you to those who reached out with their concerns, and said that Ojeda was doing well. Neither journalist responded to the Tracker’s requests for comment.
A todos los que han enviado texto, WhatsApp, llamadas, tuits etc. Gracias! Estoy bien! Todavía sorprendido como terminó la noche, pero pa' alante. Mi compañero fotoperiodista, Luis Ojeda (Ojedita) fue golpeado con un cuartón de madera, pero está bien y recuperando. #VamoArriba— Kefrén Velázquez (@kefvelazquez) January 24, 2020
López wrote in his editorial, “To attack the press is to attack the country. It undermines the right to expression.”
“Noticentro will not let its guard down in our work or informing and watching everyone equally. On the contrary, events like these make us braver to affirm that we are with you always,” López said.