In an unprecedented ruling on June 7, the Constitutional Court of Costa Rica decided that a congressman who had sued the San José-based daily La República had the right to reply to a news article about him. The ruling raised serious concerns about editorial autonomy. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Carlos Fernández, deputy chief of the Social Christian Unity Party, according to a report by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). In its April 18 edition, La República published an article saying that Fernández, an attorney, had been suspended for a year from practicing as a notary public as a result of complaints from clients. Fernández had appealed the decision. After the article was published, the suspension was reduced to eight days. Fernández, who did not respond to reporters' telephone calls prior to the article's publication, demanded that La República print a correction written by him in the news section of the paper, where the original article had appeared. Instead, La República published Fernández's response on its opinion pages. In the June 7 decision, the court ruled that the paper had to run the correction, along with a photograph of Fernández, on the same page as the original article. The newspaper complied on July 12.

In another development, Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres signed an executive decree, effective May 7, classifying as "state secrets" some documents related to police efforts to control drug trafficking and money laundering. According to the IAPA, the decree carries a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone who makes these documents public.

The good news for journalists was that the Costa Rican Supreme Court upheld its May 1995 landmark decision declaring the licensing of journalists unconstitutional, despite appeals to overturn the decision.

January 26
Jorge Ramos, Univision, THREATENED
Patsy Lloyd, Univision, THREATENED
Angel Matos, Univision, THREATENED

Ramos, a newscast reporter and anchorman of the Miami-based television channel Univision; Lloyd, a producer with Univision; and cameraman Matos were threatened with death after Univision aired Ramos's interview of former Minister Fernando Botero. In the interview, Botero confessed that he knew about President Ernesto Samper's alleged acceptance of drug money for his presidential election campaign. Ramos, who normally works out of the network's headquarters in Miami and had come to Colombia to report on the political crisis triggered by the allegations against the president, fled the country fearing for his life. Matos left Colombia with Ramos; both subsequently returned.

March 16
Raul Benoit, Univision, ATTACKED, THREATENED

Benoit, a Bogota correspondent for the Miami-based television network Univisión, was shot at by two unidentified gunmen while driving with his wife and children in northwestern Bogotá. The assailants, on motorcycles, fired shots at Benoit's car but were greeted in return with a hail of gunfire from the journalist and his two bodyguards, whom he hired after an assassination attempt in 1990. No one in Benoit's car was injured. Prior to the attack, Benoit received death threats after filing a series of stories on the Cali drug cartel and the political crisis in Colombia. In a letter to Colombian President Ernesto Samper, CPJ urged him to issue a public statement condemning all attacks and threats against the press and to conduct an immediate investigation into the attempted assassination of Benoit.

March 26

The Croatian Parliament passed two amendments to the Penal Code, reinstating laws previously abolished in 1991. The laws restrict press freedom and strengthen the position of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) by making publication of criticism of top officials and state secrets criminal offenses. Under these provisions, journalists convicted of criticizing the president of Croatia, the prime minister, the president of Parliament, the president of the Constitutional Council, or the president of the Supreme Court or of divulging ill-defined classified information could face six months to three years in prison. While Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic claimed the laws met European standards, independent commentators called them a means to suppress media freedom and said they were designed to keep the press from airing internal party struggles and criticism of President Tudjman. These amendments had to be promulgated by President Tudjman in order to be incorporated in the Penal Code. Despite intense protest, he declared the amendments law. The public prosecutor was thus empowered to launch investigations of any journalist alleged to have offended or slandered the highest officials. CPJ urged President Tudjman to repeal the amendments.

March 28

Novi List, an independent newspaper, was fined US$2.5 million for using printing equipment from Italy that the Croatian government claimed was reserved for Italian-language minority newspapers in Croatia. According to Novi List reporters, agreements signed by members of the Croatian and Italian governments in 1992 contained no such restrictions. Not only has Novi List used the equipment freely in the past, it has also provided and paid for space to house the machinery. In addition to the US$2.5 million fine for past usage, the Croatian government ordered Novi List to pay a monthly fee for the equipment. These financial penalties have forced the paper to raise its price from 3.5 kuna to 4 kuna and to reduce staff salaries by 25 percent. CPJ urged the Croatian government to drop the fine against Novi List. On May 10, the Croatian minister of finance decided to suspend the fine even though, by law, Novi List must pay the penalty first and then appeal the decision. On June 6, the Croatian Parliament began drafting a law to regulate the use of printing houses in the country. Novi Listis editor in chief told CPJ he was optimistic that the fine against the newspaper would be suspended indefinitely.

May 10
Ana Lucia Betancur, Noticiero Nacional, IMPRISONED

Betancur, a prominent reporter for the television news program "Noticiero Nacional," was kidnapped by leftist rebels in the southwest city of Cali. She was released unharmed five days later with a message from her kidnappers to the government of President Ernesto Samper. In the fall of 1995, after unknown gunmen killed three-time presidential candidate Alvaro Gómez Hurtado, the government declared a state of emergency and enacted measures that prohibited the media from carrying any statements made by leftist guerrillas.

August 15
Hector Mujica, El Espectador, HARASSED

Mujica, a correspondent for the daily El Espectador in Puerto Asis, in the department of Putumayo, was ordered by an armed man to give a verbal explanation of articles he had written about an ambulance set on fire during protests by producers of coca. The coca producers were demonstrating against a government campaign to prohibit cultivation of the crop.

August 20
Edison Parra, El Tiempo, THREATENED
Jaime Arias, El Tiempo, THREATENED

Reporter Parra and photographer Arias, both of whom are special correspondents for the Mocoa daily El Tiempo, in the Putumayo department, were threatened by a group of civilians, who forced them to attend a demonstration against a government campaign to prohibit coca cultivation by small-scale local producers.

August 22
Amparo Jimenez, QAP Noticias, THREATENED, HARASSED
Jose Coronado, QAP Noticias, THREATENED, HARASSED

Jimenez, a reporter, and Coronado, a cameraman, both with television station QAP Noticias, were detained by police after covering the occupation of the Hacienda Bellacruz by farm workers. They were stopped by the police in the nearby city of Pelaya and ordered to turn over their footage of the occupation. They refused and were allowed to leave, but were stopped again by members of an armed paramilitary group, who stole some of their equipment. The paramilitary group later issued death threats against the journalists. CPJ wrote to President Ernesto Samper and urged him to publicly condemn the threats against Jimenez and Coronado.

August 23
Television news programs, CENSORED

The National Television Committee (CNT) ordered television news programs not to transmit unofficial information that "aggravates public order." The government decree was in response to television coverage of clashes between soldiers and coca farmers demonstrating against government prohibitions on cultivation of the crop in the towns of Caqueta and Putumayo. Some members of the Colombian Congress, apparently angered by news reports, lobbied for an amendment to Television Law 182 in an effort to delay the extension of the current licenses of the news programs.

August 29
Yesid Cristancho, Cadena A, HARASSED

Cristancho, a cameraman for the television program "CM" on the public channel Cadena A in Bogota, was forced to jump into the Bodoquero River after finding himself surrounded by security forces and protesters during confrontations between soldiers and coca producers in the Caqueta department in southern Colombia. The coca producers were opposing government prohibitions on cultivation of the crop. Cristancho was not able to escape via a metal bridge nearby because it had been electrically charged by the soldiers to prevent anyone from fleeing the area.

August 29
Luis Alberto Mino, El Tiempo, ATTACKED
Camilo Chaparro, Noticiero CM&, ATTACKED
Gloria Tisnes, Noticiero Nacional, ATTACKED
Jaime Orlando Gaitan, Caracol 7:30, ATTACKED
Maribel Orsorio, QAP Noticias, ATTACKED

Mino, a reporter for the Bogota daily El Tiempo, and four reporters for Bogotá-based television stations - Chaparro of Noticiero CM&; Tisnes of Noticiero Nacional; Gaitan of Caracol 7:30; and Orsorio of QAP Noticias - were fired upon by soldiers in the village of Morelia in the Caqueta department of Colombia. The reporters were covering a demonstration by coca cultivators against government prohibitions of small-scale local producers. They were clearly identified as journalists by brightly colored flak jackets bearing the names of their respective news organizations. No one was injured. CPJ wrote a letter on Aug. 30 to President Ernesto Samper urging him to publicly condemn the attack and begin an investigation.

August 29
Luis Gonzalo Velez ("Richard"), Cadena 1, ATTACKED

Velez, a cameraman with "Colombia 12:30," a news program carried on television station Cadena 1, was beaten repeatedly by three soldiers with the butts of their G-3 rifles while he was covering a demonstration by coca cultivators in the village of Morelia in the Caqueta department. The soldiers also tried to confiscate film from Velez's camera. He had taken pictures of the soldiers firing upon farm workers. Velez was taken to the hospital for treatment and later transported to Bogota. CPJ wrote a letter to the Colombian government denouncing the beating.

October 18
Norvey Diaz, Radio Colina, KILLED

Diaz, director of the program "Rondando por los Barrios" on Radio Colina, was killed in Girardot, a resort town 135 kilometers from Bogota. Diaz, who was last seen alive on a street in the company of a young woman, had left home to attend a meeting. His body was found with a bullet wound in the nape of his neck and a cigarette butt and necklace in his hand. Investigators believe that his murder was carefully planned by professionals. Six years ago, Diaz had received frequent funeral wreaths ("coronas mortuarias") and letters warning him "to hold his tongue, otherwise something unfortunate would happen to him." In 1990, Diaz had reported on the alleged involvement of police officials in the murder of street people, as well as on the apparent investments made by drug traffickers in vacation resorts in the city. Colleagues stated that although Diaz had always reported on irregularities in society, he had, for the past few months, lessened the virulence of his reports. Shortly before his murder, Diaz had been named by Todelar, the company which owns Radio Colina, to a post which would have taken him away from his journalistic duties.

December 16
Colombian press, LEGAL ACTION

As part of a broader constitutional reform, the Colombian Congress passed a bill that could permit the National Television Commission to revoke television licenses or place conditions on the issuance of TV channels. The bill empowers the Commission to evaluate the content of news programs every six months and to ensure that they conform to standards of "objectivity, impartiality, and balance." The measure was widely interpreted as a punitive action and raised concerns that it could force networks to exercise self-censorship or risk losing a license.

December 16
Juan Gomez Martinez, El Colombiano, ATTACKED

A van packed with dynamite exploded in Medellín outside the home of Juan Gomez Martinez, an owner of the daily El Colombiano. Gomez is a former mayor of Medellin and a former state governor. A few days before the bombing, an anonymous telephone caller told the newspaper to "keep quiet" and that its journalists had "big mouths." Officials speculated that the bomb was planted by drug terrorists, but spokesmen for El Colombiano said in an interview that the perpetrators had not yet been identified.

December 22

A bomb loaded with 20 kilos of dynamite exploded in Bogota outside the offices of the weekly Voz, the official publication of the Colombian Communist Party, causing extensive damage. Authorities do not know who planted the bomb. The newspaper's director, Manuel Cepeda Vargas, was murdered in 1994. Police attributed his assassination to a paramilitary group calling itself Colombia Without Guerrillas.

December 28

A bomb containing five kilos of dynamite exploded outside the offices in Medellin of the Bogota-based daily newspaper El Tiempo. Police officials speculated that the bomb was planted by members of the guerrilla group Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, better-known by its initials, FARC. Police said they had found leaflets with FARC's name on them near the site of the attack. The leaflets derided the news media for its coverage of the conflicts in the banana-cultivating region of Uraba, where guerrillas and paramilitary groups operate. The guerrillas oppose the government and also plantation owners, some of which are foreign companies. The explosion injured a security guard and damaged the newspaper's offices and surrounding buildings.

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