German reporter released by Venezuela returns home


Caracas (AFP)

A German reporter held by Venezuelan authorities for four months flew back home Sunday after being being conditionally released, a Venezuelan NGO said.

Billy Six, 32, "is in the air right now, flying from Caracas," Carlos Correa, head of the Espacio Publico NGO that defends free speech, told AFP.

The group published a photo on Twitter showing the German in a plane making the sign of V-for-victory with his fingers.

Six was arrested in northern Falcon state on November 17 for allegedly photographing President Nicolas Maduro at a proximity deemed too close by the leader's minders.

After being held for four months by the Venezuelan intelligence service -- during which he staged a brief hunger strike -- he was released on Friday with orders to report to court every two weeks, Espacio Publico said.

But Correa said that, as he had no specific ban on leaving the country, Six "considered it best" to return to Germany.

The reporter had been in Venezuela to investigate drug trafficking, smuggling and human trafficking -- and the exodus of Venezuelans forced to migrate due to economic crisis.

Espacio Publico and journalists' associations in Venezuela accuse Maduro's government of systematically limiting access and movements of journalists.

Arrests of media employees have increased in recent months as Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido have been dueling over who is the legitimate president of the country.

Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled legislature, declared himself interim president at a public rally on January 23, saying that an election widely viewed as a sham last year meant Maduro was an "usurper."

The opposition leader is backed by 50 countries, including Germany and the United States.

On March 7, Maduro's government expelled the German ambassador, accusing him of "meddling" in domestic affairs.