Last week's attacks by Chilean police on journalists covering anti-government demonstrations were deplored by an international group of newspaper editors and publishers meeting in Salt Lake City.
The Inter American Press Association sent a protest Sunday to Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, saying the group "is shocked and outraged by the brutal attacks on journalists last Thursday, Friday and Saturday following the presidential plebiscite in your country."The message was signed by IAPA President Ignacio E. Lozano Jr. and Wilbur G. Landrey, chairman of the Freedom of Press and Information Committee.
"It is difficult to believe that these attacks were isolated, spontaneous actions, especially in the circumstances in which they took place at a time when Chileans had just voted their preferences," the statement said.
Pinochet had just lost an election in which the people voted whether they wanted him to continue as president for another eight-year term.
Lozano told the Deseret News he was very surprised by the attacks. "We certainly didn't expect that having gotten the plebiscite behind them, the people who are supposed to maintain law and order would suddenly turn violent - and especially against those who are doing nothing more than trying to do their job."
At its Salt Lake meeting, IAPA is compiling a country-by-country report on the status of press freedom in the hemisphere, and Landrey said he received the Chile report Saturday night in a cable from Emilio Filippi, director of the opposition paper La Epoca.
Attached was a copy of what appears to be the protest filed with the Chilean government Saturday by the injured journalists. Landrey said he counted 26 names. Several of those hurt were foreign journalists.
Alberto J. Schazin, UPI's news vice president for South America, was in Santiago until Friday, covering the plebiscite and its aftermath. He said UPI's office faces the plaza in front of the presidential palace where police broke up a demonstration by 3,000 students Thursday afternoon, using tear gas and a water truck. He said three or four journalists were beaten in that attack, although he did not actually see the assaults. Several more reporters and photographers were beaten on Friday night.
Schazin said the police attack Thursday was entirely unnecessary. The demonstrators were not violent. "The spirit was of happiness, cheer - (people were in) a good mood, in a happy mood, and the police had also a pacific attitude."
He said the police were trying to dismiss people without a confrontation. In a very unusual move, they even allowed an opposition leader to use one of their loudspeakers to invite those present to a victory celebration-demonstration the next day.
Schazin said the decision to move against the demonstrators clearly came from above.
"The police took that reaction because Pinochet ordered the police to do that. In fact they did not want to clash with their own countrymen."
He indicated the attacks on journalists could not have been cases of mistaken identity, because all photographers and reporters wore large credentials around their necks, marked "press" and bearing their photos.
Schazin expects problems to continue for foreign journalists in Chile. "Pinochet doesn't like the foreign press. . . . Ninety-nine percent of the foreign press are against Pinochet, so (he doesn't) like it. (Hedoesn't) like to be criticized."
The UPI official called Chile the most difficult place to cover in all South America, because, although there's no censorship, access to official sources is very limited. Several reporters are being prosecuted in military courts under broad and vague libel laws.
The irony, he said, is that until 15 years ago, "Chile was an example of freedom of the press" for the rest of South America. Schazin reported from there from 1955 to 1961.