April 17, 2000
His Excellency Andrés Pastrana Arango
President of the Republic of Colombia
Casa de Nariño
VIA FACSIMILE: 571-286-7434 / 286-7937 / 284-2186
The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by the recent break-in at the offices of the Bogotá-based magazine Alternativa, which was apparently carried out with the intention of blocking publication of the magazine's forthcoming issue. We call on Your Excellency to see to it that the incident is fully investigated and the guilty parties punished.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. on April 13, two individuals entered Alternativa's offices and asked for Fabio Castillo, one of two top editors at the magazine. When Castillo's assistant answered that the editor was unavailable, one of the men brandished a large knife, holding it to her throat while the other intruder grabbed the arm of a reporter who was the only other person in the office at the time, Castillo told CPJ
The intruders locked the two employees in a small bathroom adjoining the newsroom. After ransacking the entire office, they gathered documents and computer disks that contained back issues of the magazine and a list of subscribers.
Several other people were then heard entering the office and urging the two original intruders to hurry. "Admit it, you lost," one of them shouted as they left the office with their loot, which did not include a desk-top scanner worth approximately US$2,500.
Alternativa, normally a bi-monthly, has been in financial difficulties since the beginning of January. As a result, the forthcoming issue will be the first to appear this year. One feature story in this issue chronicles an alleged plot through which Colombia's ultra-right political forces planned to seize power. Given the highly political nature of the issue and the selective nature of the robbery, CPJ fears that the attack may have been carried out in an attempt to suppress Alternativa's publication.
In recent months, CPJ has noted a marked increase in acts of violence directed against Colombian journalists and news organizations. We are very concerned about the implications of this trend for the viability of the peace process. Your Excellency would no doubt agree that the armed conflict in Colombia cannot be brought to a peaceful conclusion without open public debate, and that there can be no substantive debate without a free press. As negotiations continue, press freedom must be protected so that journalists in Colombia can make their essential contribution to the cause of peace.
We urge Your Excellency to do everything in your power to see to it that the authors of the attack on Alternativa are brought to justice, and that a concerted effort is made to guarantee Colombian journalists their right to cover all sides of the conflict without fear of reprisals. We appreciate your attention to this urgent matter, and would welcome any information that arises in the course of the investigation.
Ann K. Cooper