May 31, 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 deeply disturbed by the May 25 kidnapping and torture of Jineth Bedoya Lima, a reporter with the Bogotá-based daily El Espectador. We call on Your Excellency to ensure that the incident is fully investigated, and the guilty parties punished.
The attack apparently resulted from El Espectador's coverage of an April 27 prison battle between common criminals and inmates belonging to the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). It appears that Bedoya was kidnapped because of El Espectador's suggestion that AUC leaders may have ordered execution-style killings during the battle, which took place at La Modelo prison, near Bogotá.
Some days before the attack, other inmates from the same prison warned Bedoya that certain jailed AUC members had decided to murder her, other journalists from El Espectador, and a TV journalist. In order to verify this allegation, the journalist began trying to contact the AUC faction within La Modelo. On May 24, an unknown individual who claimed to speak for one of the AUC leaders called Bedoya on her cell phone and gave her an appointment to meet him at the prison on the following day.
According to local press reports, Bedoya and her editor, Jorge Cardona Alzate, reached the prison gate at approximately 10 a.m. on May 25. Cardona went to look for a photographer while Bedoya tried to enter the prison. At this moment unidentified individuals kidnapped Bedoya at gunpoint and forced her into a pickup truck.
At 8 p.m., the police reported that Bedoya had been admitted to a police medical clinic in the city of Villavicencio, where she was taken after a taxi driver found her lying with her hands tied on the outskirts of town. She had been drugged and brutally beaten, and was in a state of nervous collapse. The journalist is currently under medical observation while she recovers from the attack.
This is not the first attack on Bedoya that CPJ has documented. On May 27, 1999, two unknown motorcyclists tried to run over the journalist a few blocks from her Bogotá home. Her mother was injured in the attack. Prior to this incident, Bedoya had published several articles in El Espectador about criminal gangs that kidnapped people for ransom.
We are gravely concerned about this brutal assault against one of our colleagues, which only highlights the enormous dangers that now confront Colombian journalists. In fact, the risks have become so enormous that we wonder how much longer journalists in Colombia will be able to work at all. This is a moment when all of Colombian society desperately needs information about the violent forces at work in the country. To see the vital Colombian press in such grave peril brings us great sadness.
We urge you to ensure that the assault against Bedoya is fully investigated, and that all journalists in Colombia may work without fear of reprisal.
Ann K. Cooper