Jenny Manrique said she fled the city of Bucaramanga, in the western province of Santander, in January after receiving death threats for reporting on abuses by right-wing paramilitary forces. She had asked CPJ to keep her flight secret for fear of reprisal. However, after Vanguardia Liberal published allegations of surveillance and phone tapping by state security agents last week she decided to go public.
The Bucaramanga-based daily said on February 25 that members of the national intelligence service, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), had tapped the telephones and followed the newspaper’s president, manager, director and their families.
DAS director Andrés Peñate Giraldo said he was unaware of the allegations but his office would conduct an investigation, the local press reported. He said DAS headquarters in Bogotá had not ordered anyone to spy on the paper. On Monday, however, Peñate replaced the DAS director in Santander in order to guarantee transparency in the investigation.
Vanguardia Liberal has been critical of the provincial government, particularly of Governor Hugo Aguilar Naranjo, the national leading daily El Tiempo said. Aguilar has denied any involvement in the spying allegations, El Tiempo reported.
Manrique, coordinator of the paper’s weekly supplement “Séptimo Día,” told CPJ that from May to December 2005 she received a series of telephone calls that progressively became more intimidating.
Manrique said that on January 9 she was warned to “leave the region or we will break you.” She filed a complaint with local police the next day and left Santander under the protection of the Interior Ministry on January 12. The Attorney General’s Office and the DAS began an investigation in January but according to Manrique no suspects have been taken into custody.
“We are seriously concerned by these allegations of spying on Vanguardia Liberal staff and deaths threats against one of its journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We urge Colombian authorities to thoroughly investigate both incidents and bring those responsible to justice.”
In a special report issued in October titled "Untold Stories," CPJ said that journalists in Colombia have to contend with threats, harassment and violence from a broad spectrum forces including leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, government troops and officials.