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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Colombia on high alert following two weeks of attacks on the press



In just under two weeks, Colombian journalists have had to face one of their greatest fears: the resurgence of violence as a means to muzzle freedom of expression commonly used during the height of armed groups and drug traffickers. 

The attack on the head of investigations at the magazine Semana, Ricardo Calderón; the killing of a host in Cali; threats against eight journalists in Valledupar; and the discovery of a plot to kill a journalist and two political analysts in Bogotá have put authorities and press freedom groups on high alert. The level of unease is so high that on Wednesday morning, May 15, a fake bomb threat forced Semana to evacuate its offices, reported the newspaper El Colombiano. 

Attorney General of the Republic Eduardo Montealegre said, "These cases cannot be mere coincidence," and added that there was already evidence pointing to whom was responsible, reported the newspaper El Espectador. "Criminal gangs and the enemies of peace will not destabilize the country with attacks on journalists," the official said, according to the newspaper. 

Peace seems to be exactly what some groups in the country don't want, according to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP in Spanish), the Colombian Federation of Journalists (FECOLPER in Spanish) and some of the victims, who believe the wave of threats are in response to denouncements of corrupt regional politicians and the government's peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, reported The Associated Press.   

Analysts León Valencia and Ariel Ávila, and journalist Gonzalo Guillén, the targets of the assassination plot--continue to publish their series on politicians with ties to armed criminal groups in different regions across the country. Some of the accused politicians were elected mayors or governors in the 2011 elections, reported Reuters. 

Eight journalists were threatened in the city of Valledupar, Cesar for their coverage of land restitution following years of theft by leftist guerrillas and self-defense forces. After the signing of the Victims and Land Restitution Law in 2011, the government sought to return 2 million hectares of land to 400,000 families displaced by the violence, according to Reporters Without Borders. 

Since then several armed groups have opposed the process. The self-titled "Anti-Land Restitution Group" signed leaflets identifying the journalists as "military targets" and giving them 24 hours to leave the city. Peasant leaders and displaced family spokespersons have also been threatened, reported the website Verdad Abierta. 

Following the collective threat, FLIP, FECOLPER and the National Newspaper Association met with the Interior Ministry, the attorney general, the Public Defender, the National Police and the National Protection Agency (UNP in Spanish) to discuss the situation journalists face and start their protection under the UNP. 

While journalists' conditions in Colombia have improved during recent years as a result of diminishing violence, the country has been historically one of the most dangerous for the press, according to figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

 



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