CARACAS, Venezuela — A German freelance journalist jailed in Venezuela since November on espionage charges was released Friday within weeks of two other reporters being expelled from the tumultuous South American nation, his parents and a human rights attorney confirmed.
A court in the capital of Caracas ordered journalist Billy Six to be let go under the conditions that he report back every 15 days and not speak to media, attorney Carlos Correa of Public Space told The Associated Press.
Six, 31, won’t be deported from Venezuela, but Correa also said that the journalist isn’t prevented from leaving if he chooses.
“We are overjoyed!” his parents Ute and Edward Six posted on a Facebook, also railing against Germany’s foreign ministry for not doing enough to help their son who spent 119 days in solitary confinement.
“Viva Venezuela!” they wrote. “Free Billy Six!”
Resident of a Berlin suburb, Six has travelled the globe as an independent journalist for 12 years, publishing his reports in right-wing outlets. His arrest has generated little interest in mainstream German media, which relatives blame on his conservative affiliation.
In Venezuela, he documented the economic collapse and mass migration from the socialist country, landing in jail on espionage charges that his family rejected as false.
This wasn’t Six’s first arrest amid turmoil. In 2013, he was jailed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for three months after illegally entering that country to report on its bloody civil war. He was eventually handed over unharmed to Russian diplomats in Damascus who had helped secure his release.
A photo posted on Six’s Facebook page in May 2011 shows him holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher on his shoulder, with a caption indicating it was taken on the front line of fighting in Syria.
Six turned his attention to Venezuela over a year ago. His father previously told The AP that his son entered the country legally but was unable to secure journalist credentials required by Venezuela to work as a reporter.
While reporting on Venezuela, Six posted two crudely edited German-language videos online showing him walking the streets, interviewing people and at times narrating his conclusions, critical of Maduro’s socialist government.
“Hola amigos, I’m still in Venezuela, South American socialism of the 21st century,” Six says, opening one video. “Here on the street there’s dust, dirt, garbage, street dogs.”
While the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro has little tolerance for critical coverage by local press, foreign journalists who cross officials are usually spared the same harsh treatment. In the past, foreign reporters, like Six, who weren’t accredited would stay in custody for just a few days before being ejected from the country.
The release of Six follows the recent deportation of other two journalists.
Venezuelan security forces seized U.S. freelance journalist Cody Weddle earlier this month at his apartment in Caracas where he had worked for over five years. Most recently, Weddle sent dispatches to a Miami TV station.
Univision’s Jorge Ramos was also deported in late February with his team after Maduro, who cut short and interview after 17 minutes when he was shown video on an iPad shot a day earlier of young Venezuelans eating food scraps out of the back of a garbage truck.
Associated Press Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.
Scott Smith, The Associated Press