Journalist receive notice of their own funerals

Bogotá, March 11, 2002— Seven journalists who have covered high-profile criminal investigations for major Colombian media organizations were threatened with death and given three days to leave the country.

A message typed on a card used to request a Catholic prayer for the dead accused the journalists of being “gossipy sons-of-bitches who with their lies have led the Attorney General’s Office to screw around with our people.”

The first letter was received by RCN Televisión on March 1. Caracol Televisión received an identical letter three days later.

The Attorney General’s Office is investigating the threats, said agency spokeswoman Carolina Sánchez.

The threatened journalists are Jairo Lozano, reporter for the daily El Tiempo; Juan Carlos Giraldo, senior correspondent for RCN Televisión; Julia Navarrete, correspondent for Caracol Televisión; Jairo Naranjo, correspondent for RCN Radio; Hernando Marroquín, correspondent for Caracol Radio; Marilyn López, correspondent for Noticias Uno; and José Antonio Jiménez, a former correspondent for TV Hoy, which recently folded.

The message, a copy of which was obtained by CPJ, warned that the journalists and their families would be considered “military objectives” if they did not leave the country within 72 hours. It was signed “Death Commando” and included an image of Jesus.

“Numerous Colombian journalists have been killed after being threatened,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We therefore call on Colombian authorities to do everything in their power to protect these journalists and aggressively investigate the threats so that their authors may be brought to justice.”

Four of the seven journalists interviewed by CPJ attributed the threats to a criminal organization, but declined to elaborate. The other journalists could not be reached for comment.

“These people are dangerous,” said Giraldo, who covers crime and justice issues for RCN Televisión.

All seven journalists had covered high-profile drug investigations for their news organizations. The letter that arrived at Caracol Televisión on March 4 was addressed to Navarrete, who covers the Attorney General’s Office. She has received four previous threats, and attributes a minor heart attack she suffered last month to work-related stress.

Hours after opening the letter, Navarrete was heading home in a chauffeur-driven company car from her office in the capital, Bogotá, when a vehicle with its headlights on high beam raced up from behind and tailed her car. The pursuer sped away after Navarrete’s driver pulled into a police checkpoint.

“We were in a panic,” said Navarrete, who plans to leave the country for at least a month.

The journalists have been provided with bodyguards through the Interior Ministry’s Program for the Protection of Journalists and Social Communicators. At least three of them are currently in hiding within Colombia.