Journalists threatened by paramilitaries

Bogotá, November 20, 2001—Four journalists have fled their homes in the southern Colombian department of Nariño after receiving death threats from a right-wing paramilitary faction that accused them of collaborating with rival leftist guerrillas.

The letter, signed by the Southern Liberators Front of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), accused three reporters and a cameraman of giving government information to the National Liberation Army, known as the ELN, and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Several news organizations in Pasto, Nariño’s capital, received the one-page letter on November 9.

The journalists include Cristina Castro, a reporter for RCN Televisión; Oscar Torres, managing editor of Diario del Sur newspaper; Alfonso Pardo, a reporter for the Communist Party newspaper Voz; and Germán Arcos, a cameraman for Caracol Televisión.

In the letter—a copy of which was obtained by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)—the paramilitaries wrote that they recognized the “important role” of journalists and said they would never attack the “real and honest press.”

But the letter described the four journalists as “a danger to society” and declared that they would be executed if they did not quit their jobs and leave the area within 48 hours.

“It is preposterous and outrageous that paramilitary groups are making any distinction between ‘good’ journalists and ‘bad’ journalists and then threatening to murder those whose coverage they don’t like,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

The journalists—who fled from Nariño to the capital, Bogotá, earlier this month—called the accusations lies.

“I don’t feel safe,” said Arcos. “We can go anywhere in this country and these people will find us. They’re everywhere.”

“This is the most serious threat I’ve ever received,” said Pardo, whose friend and colleague at Voz, Flavio Bedoya, was assassinated earlier this year.

The journalists said they met last week with Interior Minister Armando Estrada to discuss the threats. Even though the government has offered them limited assistance to leave the country, Torres said the aid was not enough to support him and his family while he searched for work in exile. Torres said he would return to Pasto this week but feared for his life.