CARACAS (AFP) – The Venezuelan authorities charged prominent journalist Braulio Jatar Alonso with money launder-ing Monday, although his family says he was arrested for releasing videos of a rowdy protest against President Nicolas Maduro.
Jatar, a Chilean-Venezuelan national, was one of around 30 people arrested after a protest on Friday in which an angry, pot-banging crowd surrounded the leftist president at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, blaming him for crippling food shortages.
Dozens of protesters were swept up in an ensuing crackdown, human rights groups said. All have now been released except Jatar, the director of the Venezuelan news website Reporte Confidencial.
The National Press Workers’ Union condemned his arrest as “arbitrary” and “political”.
“Deprived of his freedom for reporting the news,” Jatar’s son wrote on Twitter. “They won’t muzzle us, and they won’t muzzle Venezuela.”
Posting images of a heavily armed police contingent outside his father’s hearing in the Caribbean island resort city of Porlamar, he quipped that it resembled a court appearance of the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Jatar will remain in custody at the local headquarters of the Venezuelan intelligence service, his website said.
The journalist was arrested Saturday morning on his way to a radio station where he hosts a program, his family says.
The authorities have not explained their case against him. According to Jatar’s family, police say he was arrested with a large amount of cash in his vehicle.
The Venezuelan government has accused the media of “exaggerating” Friday’s protest, which came on the heels of massive anti-Maduro demonstrations that drew around a million people on Thursday, the biggest in decades.
Sideswiped by a plunge in global crude prices, oil-rich Venezuela has descended into an economic crisis marked by severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.
Protesters are demanding the authorities let the opposition go ahead with efforts to call a referendum on removing Maduro from power.
Around 60 people were arrested for unrest at Thursday’s protests, 23 of whom remain in custody, according to a watchdog group.