More than 120 Attacks Against the Press in Colombia

(Translated by Diana Mendez, a CSN Volunteer Translator )

Source :Instituto Popular de Capacitacion (IPC) Medellin

More than 120 attacks against the press in Colombia.


The most recent report from the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa en Colombia (Foundation for Freedom of the Press in Colombia, FLIP by its initials in Spanish) revealed that in 2013, 123 attacks against the press took place in the country. Among these were the assassinations of the journalists Edinson Molina, which occurred in Puerto Berrío (in the department of Antioquia) on September 11th, and of the reporter José Darío Arenas, which took place on September 28 in Caicedonia (in the department of Valle del Cauca).

The report titled, “Protests: without guaranteed coverage”, got a lot of attention because of the attacks against journalists which happened during the development of the popular mobilizations which took place in last year in Colombia: the peasant strike in El Catatumbo, the miners’ national strike and the national agrarian strike.

During the recent protests “the press did not have sufficient guarantees [of what?] to inform and act freely as a witness to the happenings of those days. The journalists were detained illegally; their work equipment was confiscated, which in many cases, they never saw again. They were also attacked with rocks, clubs, threats and stigmatized as belonging to guerrilla groups or of being under cover cops for just for doing their job.” (FLIP: 2012 , p.14)

In the midst of the demonstrations, FLIP registered 23 attacks which affected 44 journalists. According to the organization, the police’s involvement and the lack of attention paid to the issue are both worrisome. “During June, July and August of 2013, every three days, two journalists covering protests, were attacked. 75% of the attacks- 33 victims- were at the hands of law enforcement.” (FLIP: 2013, p. 14)

Regarding the recent attacks against the press in midst of the protests, the foundation stressed the recent condemnation from the Inter-American Court for Human Rights against the Colombian state in the case of Richard Vélez, for events that took place in 1996 while he covered a protest of coca growers in the department of Putumayo.
FLIP also brought up the death of Guillermo Quiroz, a journalist from Sucre, which took place in 2012 during coverage of a protest. For this reason, the foundation called for attention to be paid, refusing to allow these sorts of events to continue occurring in the country.

Attacks went down, but threats are still high.
Threats continue to be the principal danger to freedom of the press, with 75 victims in 2013. Threats are followed by outright obstruction of journalistic work, with 55 victims; attacks follow that with 36 victims; illegal detention had 10; stigmatization had 7; exile 3; assassinations 2; followed in turn by injuries while on the job with 2; kidnapping and attempted murder are next on the list with 1 victim each and lastly, other sorts of attacks, with 2 victims.

In sum, these all add up to 123 rights violations for a total of 194 victims. And even though the number of cases may have gone down compared to 2012 where there were 158 reported attacks, the issue of threats is still a huge concern according to FLIP, given the lack of guarantees [of what?] on the part of the State.

“Offers of protection on the part of the State do not report any serious difficulties regarding journalist’s access in 2013, but the National Unit for Protection (UNP in Spanish) faced serious administrative and budgetary difficulties related to the efficient implementation of approved protective measures.”

Two deaths reiterated the seriousness of the situation, the murders of the journalist Edinson Molina en Antioquia and of journalist José Darío Arenas in el Valle del Cauca. Both victims had previously received threats against their lives after having reported on supposed irregularities on the part of public officials in the areas where they carried out their work. In the case of the journalist from Antioquia, the family reported that the police did not offer the necessary security measures.

“Illegal surveillance”, impunity and the statute of limitations
Regarding illegal interceptions in Colombia by the State, FLIP called them “lamentable, that the statute of limitations had been reached on some of the crimes for which Jorge Noguera, the ex-director of the Administrative Security Department (DAS by its initials in Spanish), who was under investigation for the ‘illegal surveillance’ scandal.”

According to the organization’s report, this decision affects freedom of the press in Colombia, creating a serious precedent of impunity for actions which directly affected journalists, leaving them with the feeling that they are constantly being spied upon in an irregular way.” (FLIP: 2013, p. 44).

As an example of such irregular actions by the state, it is worth highlighting attacks against journalists who were conducting investigations which involved the State’s security apparatus, as was the case with Ricardo Calderón, a journalist with the magazine Semana who suffered an attack on May 1, 2013. The attack took place when the journalist was traveling from Ibagué to Bogotá after reporting on supposed irregularities within the army. These events are still under investigation, but until now no judicial decision has been reached.

Some of the issues under investigation by Ricardo Calderón include: illegal interceptions by DAS, extra-juidicial executions, paramilitarism and its political ties, as well as, scandals within the armed forces. An example of these is the one at the Tolemaida military base wherein arrested military officials were shown to be enjoying privileges.
On the other hand, the foundation for freedom of the press is concerned with judicial decisions which encourage impunity such as the order to free Hugo Daney Ortiz in December 2013 from his confinement at the la Picota jail for events related to a case of psychological torture against a journalist.

It is troubling that Ortiz was freed even though a measure to ensure appearance at trial against him exists, connected with the case of psychological torture against Claudia Julieta Duque, since March 2013. After this Ortiz turned himself in to the authorities in January 2014, said the FLIP.
Regarding the statute of limitations on cases dealing with the homicides of journalists, the Foundation for Freedom of the Press in Colombia (FLIP), in its 2012 report, ““De las balas a los expedientes” (“From Bullets to Files”), denounced the slowness of investigations and the lack of justice.

Of the 142 homicides of journalists which have taken place in Colombia since 1977, the statute of limitations has been reached on 64 of them; the majority of which had been in just the preliminary investigation stages. “During 2013 the statute of limitations was reached on the cases of Gerardo Didier Gómez, Carlos Lajud Catalán, Nelson de la Rosa Toscazo, Manuel José Martínez Espinosa and Danilo Alfonso Baquero Sarmiento.
Out of the 142 journalist homicides, at least 30 are attributable to auto-defense (paramilitary) forces. But until now only one sentence exists within the Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace) framework, “which condemened the now ex-commander of the Bolivar Paramilitary Central Block, Rodrigo Pérez Alzate, alias “Julián Bolívar”, for the homicide of journalist José Emeterio Rivas, which took place in Barrancabermeja on April 6, 2003.” (FLIP: 2013, p. 45)

Lastly, FLIP concludes that there are two challenges to freedom of the press which took hold during 2013. The first is the freedom of expression on the Internet, with decisions by the Constitutional Court which can be considered positive in some aspects and disproportionate in others such as in decisions relating to blocking habeas data or the prevention of child pornography.

The other refers to an eventual definitive peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). During the second point of negotiations discussion subjects related to freedom of the press were talked about. These must be further analyzed and debated so that their implementation may be favorable to journalism, democracy and peace.

This article was written with information provided by FLIP:

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.