American journalist Cody Weddle was released by the Maduro regime and expelled from Venezuela on Wednesday night after spending ten hours in captivity. Weddle said his captors seemed particularly upset about a report he filed about rank-and-file Venezuelan soldiers preparing to switch their allegiance to internationally-recognized interim president Juan Guaido.
Weddle’s account of his ordeal, published by his employers at WPLG News in Florida, described a group of “black-clad agents with bulletproof vests and an order signed by a Venezuelan military judge” bursting into his home early on Wednesday and carting him off to an interrogation chamber.
“Weddle said he was held for several hours alone with a ski mask covering his face. Weddle said guards searched his cellphone and computer and would sporadically question him about his work. He was not hurt, but he said he was without food and water during the interrogation,” WPLG reported.
“It was clear they didn’t like my reporting. They were interested in a story I did about the current atmosphere in the armed forces,” Weddle said.
The reporter said his interrogators came from a Venezuelan counter-espionage agency and accused him of “treason, espionage, and removing military artifacts.”
“They wanted to know about the work I did, who I worked with. They wanted to know what kind of military people I’ve spoken to; what type of opposition politicians I know; who were the opposition politicians I spoke to in the past few days,” the New York Times quoted Weddle.
Weddle said his interrogation was videotaped and he was prodded to make statements for the camera that Guaido is not the legitimate president and Venezuela’s woes are due to U.S. sanctions.
He said his captors grew nervous as international criticism of his detention mounted and eventually decided to let him go. His assistant Carlos Camacho, who was arrested at the same time as Weddle, was released shortly before he was.
Weddle said his personal electronics were searched by interrogators but eventually returned to him. The bulk of his personal possessions were left behind in his Caracas apartment, to which he will apparently not be permitted to return.
Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who strongly denounced Weddle’s arrest, told the Maduro regime to stop intimidating journalists:
.@WPLGLocal10’s reporter has been released. Maduro and his thugs need to know: the U.S. will not stand for threats against journalists.
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) March 7, 2019
Florida’s other senator, Marco Rubio, expressed similar criticism of Nicolas Maduro for intimidating reporters:
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 7, 2019
The U.S. State Department also pressured Maduro to release the journalist:
.@StateDept is aware of and deeply concerned with reports that another U.S. journalist has been detained in #Venezuela by #Maduro, who prefers to stifle the truth rather than face it. Being a journalist is not a crime. We demand the journalist’s immediate release, unharmed.
— Kimberly Breier (@WHAAsstSecty) March 6, 2019
Guaido called out Maduro for arresting Weddle, saying the reporter was “kidnapped by a regime that usurps functions and tries, without success, to hide the truth of what is happening in our country.”