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On May 3, DW awarded 17 journalists with its Freedom of Speech Award. Among them is Venezuelan journalist Darvinson Rojas. He speaks to DW about the challenges of working as a journalist in his country.
Deutsche Welle (DW): What does it mean to you to receive recognition like our Freedom of Speech Award?
Darvinson Rojas: It's an honor, because even though it's in my name, it's an award that goes not only to journalists in Venezuela but to everyone in Latin America. Venezuela is going through quite a complex situation. There have been many cases of arrests of social communicators and this award represents recognition of all that struggle for access to information.
DW: You were arrested for 12 days for your journalistic work in relation to the management of the coronavirus in your country. Was this the first time or have you had similar experiences before?
The practice of journalism in Venezuela implies many risks. We are always exposed to some type of aggression in the street, some threat, but I have experienced a situation like an arrest before. It is an arrest that occurred for reporting cases of coronavirus in Venezuela and cases confirmed by authorities at different levels. What happened is that on that day, there was no information about cases from the commission appointed by Nicolás Maduro. So what I did was to look for the information that the mayors and governors had made known and add those cases to the figure we had the day before.
DW: Was the arrest by the Special Action Forces (FAES) a surprise to you?
I first saw it as an irregularity because the officials arrived at my house and said they had received an anonymous call claiming that there was a person infected with the coronavirus in the house. I posted everything on Twitter, took pictures and started recording a video. At that moment the officials changed their story and said that they had come because of some tweets that I had posted.
DW: On that day, March 21, you were arrested and then charged with "inciting hatred" and "public incitement". On April 2, you were released on bail. How will the case continue now?
At the presentation to the court I learned that it was because of the publication of these figures. The allegation was that I had used my Twitter account to post false information. There is now a 45-day investigation phase. But because of the pandemic, everything is on hold. Once we go out of quarantine, the ministry will present its elements to a court.
DW: You said this award is for all journalists in Venezuela and Latin America who fight every day for access to information. How difficult is it to get information about the pandemic in Venezuela?
In those days, information about coronavirus cases was only a number. The presidential commission reported a case in one state. But there was no more information. It was not known in which area of the state the case had been registered, how that person was infected, whether they were male or female, or their age. When I was released, I noticed that had changed. Cases were now given in more detail and there was more specific information. And that helps people a lot to know more about the cases in their state or their community.
DW: Venezuela is currently reporting 357 infected cases and 10 deaths. Are these figures reliable?
The truth is that I am not able to give an opinion on this issue because we don't know any other source of information and we don't know if there are cases. No spokesperson from any organization or trade union has come forward to say that this is not the right figure and that they are presenting the right figures. So we have only Maduro's version of the commission. Even the commission appointed by Juan Guaidó presents the same numbers.
Since 2015, DW has presented the Freedom of Speech Award annually to a person or initiative that has shown outstanding commitment to human rights and freedom of expression in the media.
DW: At 25 you are one of the youngest among the winners of this award. When and why did you decide to become a journalist?
Since I was a child I liked journalism. In 2014, when I had been at university for about a year, there were many conflicts in the streets in Caracas, confrontations between anti-government demonstrators and security officials. I would go out with my phone and take pictures. At that time there were no channels that now exist - that broadcast via streaming. Basically, I was almost the only journalist in the area telling what was going on. Through those reports I was contacted by a journalist, the head of a media outlet, and that's when I started my career in journalism. First I went out on my own to report through my Twitter account, then I specialized in events from police sources, violence, homicides and protests.
DW: Aren't you afraid?
Fear always exists. It's a natural feeling. When you go out on the street and move around in complicated situations you are always exposed to something happening to you. Whether it's the assault of a civilian or a police officer. In the street you are very exposed.
DW: Have you ever thought of leaving Venezuela? What motivates you to stay in the country and continue your journalistic work?
I've never thought about leaving. When you have a commitment like the one I have to this country and to the citizens, being abroad would not help. One would miss a window for people to talk about their problems. There'd be one journalist less on the streets. What we need is more journalists on the streets, more media which people can turn to to express themselves.