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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Colombian government commits to press freedom in face of rising threats against journalists



Update (8/10/18): The Attorney General of Colombia announced on Aug. 8 that three material authors of threats against María Jimena Duzán, Luis Carlos Vélez and Katherine Leal would be charged.

It added that it is working on 188 investigations corresponding to 277 threats against journalists made between July 2016 and July 2018.

It provided the cell phone number 350 6011181 and email recepcion.amenazas@fiscalia.gov.co to report any threats.

Original (8/8/18): In Colombia, civil society has made a series of appeals to the State to stop the wave of attacks and threats against journalists and social leaders that has been taking place with increasing intensity over the last four years, according to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, for its acronym in Spanish).

Image of targeted journalists, produced by FLIP. (Courtesy)

"From the State and certainly at the international level, there was this promotion of the idea that Colombia was a great example about the improvement of the situation of freedom of expression in the world,” FLIP’s Sebastián Salamanca told the Knight Center. "That was a vision that FLIP had rejected. The perfect example is that threats to journalists have tripled in the last three years in Colombia.”

After a recent wave of threats against journalists in the country, FLIP and the Colombian Association of News Media (AMI) met with national authorities on Aug. 2 who committed to promote a free press and expressed concern for what is happening in the country’s regions, FLIP reported.

“We call civil society and, especially public officials, to reject violence agans the press and act forcefully in these types of cases,” a joint release stated. “Censorship entails an intolerable social and democratic cost.”

Salamanca said it was important to remain attentive to any measures the government may take in the coming weeks “to be able to intuit how much of this is going to be fulfilled in practice.”

Threats

At the beginning of August, three journalists from various outlets who were reporting in Moncoa, Putumayo were threatened with death via Facebook by a person who identified themselves as being parts of Las Águilas Negras paramilitary group, FLIP reported.

The journalists considered the threats to be a consequence of their reports on the operations that the police and Army are deploying to capture members of dissident groups of the FARC in that region.

In mid-July, through a pamphlet allegedly signed by the paramilitary group Bloque Central de Las Águilas Negras, Jineth Bedoya and the journalist team of the Silla Vacía were accused of being "guerrillas" and were declared "military targets," FLIP reported.

That same week, María Jimena Duzán, a columnist for Semana magazine, received death threats via Twitter.

On July 16, three journalists from the station RCN were threatened by a person who identified himself as a member of the ELN guerrilla group. They threatened Jorge Espinosa, Juan Pablo Latorre and Yolanda Ruiz, director of the morning newscast, FLIP reported.

Both Bedoya and Duzán have suffered directly from the violence of the armed conflict. In the early 2000s, Bedoya, current deputy editor of El Tiempo, was the victim of an abduction, torture and sexual violence. She was taken outside a prison where she was going to interview a paramilitary leader. A year earlier, Duzán lost her colleague and sister, Silvia Margarita, when paramilitaries killed her in 1999.

Dangers facing journalists in the regions

Salamanca, lawyer and coordinator of the care and defense for journalists at FLIP, explained that in Colombia, in general terms, the protection the State offers to journalists is not enough to guarantee that they will not be threatened or killed as a result of their work.

"There are territories that are especially difficult for the exercise of journalism and, in some of them, I dare to say that there is no possibility of doing journalism in an independent manner without this creating risks to life or integrity," Salamanca said.

Regarding these territories, he referred to conflict zones and border areas where journalists are often more at risk. He cited as an example the area of Catatumbo, on the border with Venezuela; Tumaco, on the border with Ecuador; Urabá Antioquia, on the border with Panama. He also referred to areas of the interior of the country, such as those in the Amazon, where minerals are extracted illegally from rivers.

Commitments from the new Government

For FLIP, national public authorities must "unmistakably" reject these types of situations. Also, according to Salamanca, the Government should allocate more resources to the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation so it has a greater capacity to handle investigations more efficiently.

During the Aug. 2 meeting between FLIP, AMI and national authorities, including the Minister of the Interior, the Attorney General, a spokesperson from the transition team for president-elect Ivan Duque, the government committed to to give instructions to all the delegates government offices and State agencies in the country, "in order to optimize the execution of the mission mandates, guarantee the right to life and integrity of journalists and ensure the necessary conditions for a free press throughout the national territory."

In addition, they encouraged journalists and the media to submit timely reports of any type of stigmatization, threat or aggression that occurs as a result of their profession, which will have priority in necessary channels, according to the government statement.



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