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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Colombia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Colombia, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566d0c.html [accessed 31 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

For the first time in more than a decade, CPJ documented no case in 2004 in which a journalist was killed for his or her work. While violence against Colombian journalists may have receded – 31 were murdered for their work during the last decade, according to CPJ research – it does not reflect an improvement in conditions for the press. Rather, local journalists say, it reflects a culture of self-censorship, especially in Colombia's lawless interior. Pressure from armed groups, they say, has caused many journalists to not cover the conflict, or to provide superficial, one-sided coverage.

"Self-censorship is pervasive," says Juliana Cano, director of the local press freedom organization Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (Foundation for Freedom of the Press). "Regional journalists are wary of the consequences of what they write or broadcast."

The national daily El Tiempo (The Time) reported in October that violence prevents coverage of sensitive issues in departments such as César, Córdoba, Magdalena, and Arauca, where leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Colombian army, and right-wing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia are fighting for control. Thorough, accurate reporting has gone by the wayside amid the climate of fear. Under threat from rebels or paramilitaries and fearing for their lives, journalists are often forced to skew their coverage to favor one side. By repressing and influencing coverage, armed groups are effectively waging war over information as well as territory and power.

An April survey of news coverage in 13 Colombian newspapers found that reporters who cover the conflict usually rely on only one official source and reproduce official press bulletins without independent investigation. The survey, conducted by the local press organization Proyecto Antonio Nariño, also concluded that more than 90 percent of coverage was brief and provided no analysis.

A delegation of press freedom organizations that included CPJ Americas Program Research Associate Sauro González Rodríguez traveled to Barrancabermeja, in the northeastern department of Santander, in April to evaluate press conditions there. The delegation found a climate of intimidation in Barrancabermeja – Colombia's oil capital – and in the surrounding rural areas, home to right-wing paramilitary forces and left-wing guerrillas. State institutions, the delegation found, have a weak presence. In its report, "Barrancabermeja, la voz que se resiste a callar" (Barrancabermeja, the voice that refuses to be silenced), the delegation urged Colombian authorities and armed groups to respect press freedom and society's right to be informed and called on police and prosecutors to investigate threats against journalists and bring those responsible to justice.

According to El Tiempo, regional journalists covering corruption and organized crime have become increasingly cautious, doing little independent reporting or analysis, particularly when paramilitary groups are involved. While no journalists were killed for their work in 2004, assaults continued to occur whenever corrupt public officials, drug traffickers, and other criminals wanted to prevent the media from exposing their activities. On April 22, for example, Cúcuta radio commentator Jorge Elías Corredor Quintero narrowly escaped an assassination attempt after two men who visited him, purportedly to discuss a real estate deal, shot at him and killed his stepdaughter. Corredor, host of "El Pregón del Norte" (The Cry of the North) on the radio station La Voz del Norte (The Voice of the North), is known for his sharp criticism of local authorities.

Neither local nor international reporters need government permission to enter war zones, but journalists complain about restricted access. In September 2002, the Colombian government designated 27 townships in three separate departments in northern and northwestern Colombia as security zones, giving state authorities greater leverage in their battle against paramilitary forces and leftist guerrillas. Journalists traveling in war zones say they have been searched without warrants and have had their communications intercepted by armed groups. Some reporters believe this is another reason why the conflict gets only modest coverage in the Colombian and international press.

While journalists in the interior face the greatest risks, those in the capital, Bogotá, also receive threats and intimidation. In late September, journalists at Semana (Week) were threatened and had their phones tapped after the newsweekly published segments of a private conversation between paramilitary leaders and High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo. Semana's report exposed secret negotiations between the Colombian government and paramilitary leaders to prevent the extradition of paramilitary leaders to the United States and their prosecution by the International Criminal Court. The article also described how drug traffickers had infiltrated the paramilitaries.

Semana did not identify the threatened journalists because of safety concerns but urged authorities to investigate. In an October 2 editorial, the magazine said it did not know whether the threats came from the paramilitaries, drug traffickers, or organized crime. "The debate on crucial issues is necessary and should be carried out openly and with dignity. This is one of the roles of the press in a democracy: to contribute to the debate on issues of public interest," the editorial said.

On August 30, Colombia's Constitutional Court rejected President Álvaro Uribe's controversial antiterrorism bill, citing procedural errors. The bill would have allowed the army to conduct searches, tap telephones, and intercept private correspondence without a warrant in cases involving individuals suspected of terrorist links. If such provisions applied to journalists, analysts said, they would have threatened the confidentiality of sources and opened the way for government abuse. The Colombian government has the option of reintroducing the bill in Congress, where it must go again through the approval process.

CPJ continues to investigate the February murder of a journalist in the town of Cartago, Valle del Cauca Department, but it is not clear whether the slaying was related to his reporting.


2004 Documented Cases – Colombia

JANUARY 28, 2004
Posted: February 4, 2004

Inés Peña, Canal Enlace 10
ATTACKED, THREATENED

Peña, a journalist and human rights activist, was assaulted and tortured in the city of Barrancabermeja, Santander Department, at around 3 p.m. Two armed men abducted the journalist while she was walking in downtown Barrancabermeja. Peña, 22, belongs to the youth chapter of the women rights' group Organización Femenina Popular, OFP (Women's Popular Organization) and hosts the "Cultura por la Vida" (Culture for Life) segment of "La Mohana" television show, broadcast by the privately owned Canal Enlace 10 from Barrancabermeja.

According to CPJ sources, the assailants, who identified themselves as members of the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), pointed a gun at Peña and forced her into a car. They threatened Peña and physically abused her by shaving her hair and burning her feet with boiling water. The attackers told her to end her involvement with the television program.

Yolanda Becerra, president of the Women's Popular Organization, told CPJ that in her weekly television segment, Peña speaks about young people who are affected by the Colombian civil war and constantly denounces human rights violations committed by armed groups. Becerra said the attack came in reprisal for Peña's journalistic work. She has been threatened in the past.

The Barrancabermeja police have launched an investigation into the attack.

Barrancabermeja, a port city in northeastern Colombia, is controlled by paramilitary forces, which are often accused of flagrant human rights violations. In October 2003, Janeth Montoya, a reporter for the Barrancabermeja-based daily Vanguardia Liberal, received death threats after she reported a story exposing the social problems of a poor neighborhood where armed groups are active.

FEBRUARY 4, 2004
Posted: February 6, 2004

Oscar Alberto Polanco Herrera, Cable Unión de Occidente
KILLED

Polanco Herrera, a television journalist, was shot dead in the town of Cartago, Valle del Cauca Department, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Bogotá.

Authorities said that Polanco Herrera, director of the local news program "CNC Noticias" on Cable Unión de Occidente, was shot three times by two unidentified men on motorcycles in his office parking lot at 1 p.m. Police Colonel Jairo Salcedo said authorities do not have information on the gunmen or the possible motives for the killing.

Polanco, 37, broadcast a daily, hour-long local news program. According to Polanco's friend and colleague Luis Ángel Murcia, a month-and-a-half ago, Polanco changed the format of his show and began using it as a forum to irreverently criticize local officials.

Murcia told CPJ that despite the new format, Polanco's program maintained a close relationship with the mayor's office, and that Polanco himself was a personal friend to many local politicians.

"Cartago is an intolerant city with a long history of drug-trafficking and hired killers." Murcia told CPJ. "Currently this has reduced significantly, but the intolerance makes it easy to create enemies, and most problems are resolved with bullets."

Polanco was not known to have received any death threats before his death, Murcia said.

Valle del Cauca department Governor Angelino Garzón condemned Polanco's murder. An award of 5 million pesos (US$1,800) is being offered for any information leading to the capture of Polanco's killers.

FEBRUARY 9. 2004
Posted: March 5, 2004

Garibaldi López, Radio Calor Estéreo
THREATENED

Garibaldi López, who produces and hosts two news programs-"Controversia"and "Actualidad en Estéreo"-on Radio Calor Estéreo, in the city of Barrancabermeja, received various threatening phone calls.

According to CPJ sources, on February 9, the caller, who identified himself as a member of the paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), told Lopez's son that his father was a problem. According to López, the caller said: "The first was José Emeterio Rivas, the second will be Garibaldi López and the third will be Diego Waldrón." Rivas was a journalist killed in April 2003 and Waldrón is López's colleague at Radio Calor Estéreo.

López covers a variety of issues, including human rights abuses by the paramilitaries. He told CPJ that one of his best friends received a call, in which the caller said that the AUC had López on a list of people they intend to kill.

Barrancabermeja, a port city in northeastern Colombia, is controlled by paramilitary forces, which are often accused of flagrant human rights violations. At the end of January, paramilitary forces abducted journalist and human rights activist Inés Peña, who hosts a local TV talk show. The men tortured Peña and threatened her with future reprisals.

FEBRUARY 14, 2004
Posted: March 3, 2004

Diego Waldrón Guerrero, Siete Días and Radio Calor Estéreo
THREATENED

Waldrón, editor of the weekly Siete Días and host of the daily news program "Noticias en Caliente" on Calor Estéreo radio station in the town of Barrancabermeja in northern Colombia, was threatened the day after he criticized on air and in his weekly newspaper the credentials of a person appointed by the local mayor to run a municipal organization.

Waldrón, 37, told CPJ that a bodyguard with city hall connections visited his house and warned him to stop criticizing local officials or face the consequences.

Waldrón also said that on January 26 he received a death threat from a relative of the president of Barrancabermeja's Chamber of Commerce. According to Waldrón, the relative threatened him and tried to attack him with an iron bar as the journalist was entering Radio Calor Estéreo's offices. The incident occurred after Waldrón reported on air and in Siete Días about a case of embezzlement at the chamber of commerce.

Police officers detained the attacker two days later when they found him waiting outside Waldrón's home. According to the local press, the officers freed him because he was unarmed.

According to several sources, Waldrón has asked for police protection, but has not yet received a response.

APRIL 22, 2004
Posted: April 27, 2004

Jorge Elías Corredor Quintero, "El Pregón del Norte," La Voz del Norte
ATTACKED

According to local press reports, on April 22, at around 7:30 p.m., two men visited Corredor's home to discuss buying a house the journalist was selling. Ten minutes later, one of the men returned and, without saying a word, pulled out a gun.

Corredor threw himself to the ground but a bullet struck his stepdaughter, Livy Sierra Maldonado, killing her instantly.

The journalist is currently under police custody. Police are offering a 50 million pesos reward (US$19,000) for information leading to the murderer's capture.

Corredor, who hosts the daily program "El Pregón del Norte" for La Voz del Norte radio station in the city of Cúcuta, Norte de Santander Department, is known for his sharp criticism of local authorities. According to several sources familiar with the situation, Corredor, who has worked as a journalist for 27 years, was fired from the radio station on April 4, after the Cúcuta Mayor Ramiro Suárez Corzo pressed the station to end his contract because of Corredor's criticism against the local administration. A few days later, Corredor was asked to resume his work.

JUNE 17, 2004
Posted: July 9, 2004

Jhon Jairo León, Canal 3
ATTACKED, THREATENED

Wilson Lozano, Caracol Televisión
Reinaldo Patiño, Caracol Televisión
HARASSED

Luz Dary Inés, Enlace TV
ATTACKED

León, a cameraman with local television channel Canal 3, was attacked and threatened while covering a workers' protest in Barrancabermeja, an oil town in the northwestern department of Santander. Lozano, a reporter with Caracol Televisión, and Patiño, his cameraman, were harassed while they were reporting on the protest. Inés, a reporter with the local television channel Enlace TV, was also attacked.

Members of the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) trade union, who were protesting against layoffs and salary cuts, congregated in front of the mayor's office at around 3:30 p.m. to obtain a permit to march, according to local news reports. After the mayor's office denied them the permit, claiming it hadn't been requested at least 48 hours in advance, the police ordered protesters to disperse. When union members began to leave, some clashed with police, who beat several protesters. In return, demonstrators threw stoned at the police.

León told CPJ that he was filming an officer beat a protester when a police agent in plain clothes came to him, slapped him in the head several times, and told him to stop recording. When León answered that he was doing his job, the agent told him that he should not appear on camera because he was undercover. Then the agent insulted León and said, "I know who you are. When I see you alone on the streets, I'm going to screw you."

León filed a complaint about the attack with the local Ombudsman's Office. He also said that the Barrancabermeja Journalists' Association had filed another complaint on his behalf before the Prosecutor General's Office.

Lozano and Patiño followed riot police as they entered a USO office. Masked police agents first blocked the journalists' path with their shields to keep them from taping the incident, Lozano told CPJ. When the journalists managed to get in and record the beating of a union worker, police agents grabbed Lozano by the neck. Lozano told them that they work for Caracol Televisión and got loose, but an agent tried to handcuff him. The presence of other journalists made the police agent give up, according to Lozano.

Inés was hit in the face with an unidentified object while she was covering the protest. According to Lozano, who was present, Inés suffered several injuries, including a broken nose septum and a fractured cheekbone. Maritza Cueto, Enlace TV news director, told CPJ that Inés will be out for several weeks while recovering from her injuries. CPJ was unable to contact Inés.

AUGUST 1, 2004
Posted: August 9, 2004

Hollman Morris Rincón, Channel One
Luis Galdos, Channel 4
HARASSED

The Colombian navy detained Galdos and Morris, reporters working on a documentary for the British television station Channel 4, and confiscated their video camera and tapes while they were on a boat in the Putumayo River, on the Colombia-Ecuador border. The journalists were released and the material returned to them seven hours later.

Galdos, an Italian journalist with Channel 4, and Morris, a Colombian native who produces the weekly television show "Contravía" on Channel One in the capital, Bogotá, were visiting the area to produce a documentary on border issues. Colombia's illegal armed groups have a strong presence in the region.

Morris told CPJ that the two had met in Quito, Ecuador's capital, and traveled to the Colombian border, where they identified themselves as journalists at three different Colombian military checkpoints.

On August 1, the Colombian navy stopped their boat and ordered the journalists to board the naval ship "ARC Leticia." The navy first said it was a routine security measure because of armed combat further along the river, according to Morris.

When Morris asked the naval officer why they were being held on the ship, the officer answered, "You are detained." After the officer told Morris he was following a direct order from Bogotá, Morris called some friends on a satellite telephone to inform them of their detention. The officer then ordered the journalists to hand over the phone, video camera, and footage.

Four hours later, a Colombian military intelligence officer arrived in a helicopter to return the camera and footage and asked Galdos and Morris to sign a document verifying that they had not been abused or mistreated before releasing them.

On August 2, Colombia's Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that the detention of the journalists was part of a routine inspection. The ministry also stated that Galdos did not have an official Colombian entry stamp on his passport. Morris said that during the detention, officers never mentioned the issue of passports and entry stamps.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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