Protests against the detention by Venezuela's security forces of five foreign journalists including three from Spain's news agency EFE built up Thursday with the Spanish prime minister calling for the government there to respect the rule of law while the European Union's foreign affairs spokesperson called for their immediate release.
Agents of the so-called Bolivarian National Intelligence Service descended on a hotel where the EFE team were staying and took two of them away for questioning while two journalists from France were also detained. A third EFE journalist who had been out reporting events was also picked up for interrogation, agents said.
"There is a clear call on my part for their immediate release," Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the EU Commission, said at a press conference in Bucharest.
Mogherini said the EU would continue to support the freedom of the press and the protection of journalists.
"We demand the immediate liberation of our colleagues Gonzalo Domínguez, Maurén Barriga and Leonardo Muñoz, detained in Caracas by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service," Spain's Comisiones Obreras trade union said.
"It is not true that they entered Venezuela illegally, they registered themselves correctly at the airport," Fernando Garea, EFE's president, told Spanish TV network Antena 3. "In these types of situations, the first thing that those in power try to do is suppress what is going on, the idea is for there to be no witnesses," he added.
The journalists had traveled from EFE's Bogota office to Caracas to cover the political crisis.
EFE called for a noon-time protest gathering hundreds of journalists outside its main headquarters in Madrid in support of its newsgatherers. A driver which the EFE team was using was also detained, the agency said.
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez took to social media to urge for the immediate release of the journalists.
"Spain strongly rejects the arrest in Caracas of 4 members of @EFEnoticias," he tweeted, adding that through the embassy in Venezuela they were making arrangements for the team’s release “as soon as possible.”
Two journalists from Chile were deported from Venezuela as the political crisis that has engulfed the resource-rich yet economically stricken South American nation lurched further into a state of crisis.
The Chileans were TV journalists who were detained Tuesday night near the presidential palace.
They were held for 14 hours before being expelled from the country, Chile's Foreign Minister, Roberto Ampuero, said. The reason given for their detention was that they had been working in a "security zone," he added.
"This is what dictatorships do. Crackdown on the freedom of the press," he said.
The French journalists were working for a television program called "Quotidien" and were also detained Tuesday while filming outside the presidential palace, diplomatic sources said. A local producer working with them was also detained.
"We know the Venezuelan government is trying to restrict the freedom of the press," Juan Varela, EFE's Chief Digital and Business Development Officer, told BBC TV.