Journalists warned of murder plot

New York, May 9, 2002
—The Committee to Protect Journalists is extremely concerned about a series of menacing threats against four Colombian journalists, including an incident yesterday.

At around 6:30 a.m. on May 8, two men approached Carlos Pulgarín—a journalism professor at the Universidad de La Sabana, a private university in the capital, Bogotá—as he was walking toward the bus stop to go to work, the journalist told CPJ. One of the men grabbed him by the arm and the other patted him on the shoulder in a seemingly friendly manner. They were not visibly armed.

The men told Pulgarín that it was a lovely day and that he had better enjoy it, because he did not have many days left to live. They told him to convey the same message to César Mauricio Velásquez, the dean of the Universidad de La Sabana’s department of social communication and journalism. Before leaving in a red all-terrain vehicle, the men told Pulgarín that they knew where his family lived.

Velásquez was followed by a similar car last month, Pulgarín said. One of the men who threatened Pulgarín resembled the driver of the vehicle that tailed Velásquez.

The threat to Pulgarín and Velásquez was the latest in a series of warnings directed at four local journalists, beginning on March 19. That day, a man who identified himself as a retired army sergeant called Velásquez’s office twice and told his secretary that there was a plan under way to kill Francisco Tulande, deputy director of RCN Radio; Alejandro Santos, editor of the news magazine Semana; and Pulgarín.

On April 8, the same man called again and told Velásquez’s secretary that the attack was imminent and that Velásquez was also a target. The man said the four journalists were considered “enemies of Colombia” because of their work but did not elaborate.

Velásquez notified authorities and the other journalists about the alleged plot. The Interior Ministry’s Program for the Protection of Journalists and Social Communicators has provided him with a bodyguard.

While none of the journalists know why they were threatened, Santos cited Semana‘s participation in a collaborative media investigation into the shooting death of journalist Orlando Sierra earlier this year. On March 3, Semana and six other prominent Colombian newspapers and news magazines published the results of a joint investigation which concluded that Sierra’s murder may have been ordered by local politicians whom Sierra had frequently accused of corruption.

Going way back
Death threats have forced Pulgarín to flee Colombia on several occasions since 1999. All the threats apparently resulted from his exposés of violence perpetrated by Colombia’s warring factions.

Pulgarín said that the men who accosted him yesterday had harassed him on several previous occasions. The first incident took place outside his apartment building in 2001. Pulgarín, who had returned from his first period in exile in October 2000, was working for the newspaper El Tiempo at that time. On that occasion, the two men were armed and identified themselves as members of a right-wing paramilitary organization.

They demanded that Pulgarín leave Colombia and renounce journalism. Pulgarín subsequently quit his job at El Tiempo and left the country for the second time. When he returned to Colombia in September 2001, the journalist said, the same two men accosted him and repeated their threats.

On March 14, 2002, his birthday, Pulgarín received a phone call from an unidentified man who said, “Sapo [informer], son-of-a-bitch, enjoy it because it’s your last year.”

“CPJ is extremely concerned about these chilling threats against our colleagues,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We urge Colombian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.”