The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply alarmed by the rapid escalation of violence against the press in Colombia in recent months. In addition to a wave of threats that has fostered a climate of fear among the media, two journalists were killed this week in separate attacks.
On Monday, April 28, at around 8 p.m., an unidentified gunman crept into the house of journalist Guillermo Bravo Vega, in the southern town of Neiva, Huila Department, and shot him once in the head and twice in the neck. Bravo, 65, died as he was being driven to a local hospital, police sources told CPJ.
In a separate incident, the following morning, journalist Jaime Rengifo was walking to his room in the hotel where he lived in the northern town of Maicao, La Guajira Department, when a gunman shot him five times in the back. The assassin, who checked into the hotel under a false name, fled on a motorcycle, according to local police.
Bravo, who directed the morning television program “Hechos y cifras” (Facts and Figures) for the regional station Alpevisión, had frequently accused municipal and state government officials of stealing public money. Rengifo, 48, hosted the program “Periodistas en acción” (Journalists in Action) on Radio Olímpica. He was also the publisher of an occasionally printed newspaper called El Guajiro Quincenario. The journalist frequently lambasted local police and the military for failing to bring security to the department.
Both journalists received death threats before they were killed. Although colleagues believe that Bravo and Rengifo were killed for their work, CPJ has not yet confirmed that their deaths were connected with their journalism. Police are investigating the cases but have not arrested any suspects.
According to CPJ research, during the last three months, 16 journalists in Colombia have received death threats because of their work. One of the threatened journalists has fled the country and another 14 have sought refuge in the capital, Bogotá.
The wave of threats began in February, when Gladys Teresa Barajas Osorio, president of the photographers association Círculo Colombiano de Reporteros Gráficos, began receiving e-mail messages and phone calls from unidentified individuals warning that she would be killed if she didn’t leave the country.
Although Barajas doesn’t know who is behind the threats, she said they may stem from her role in organizing a small demonstration in Bogotá in late January to protest the kidnappings by the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) of American photographer Scott Dalton and British reporter Ruth Morris. Barajas fled Colombia on March 7.
Less than a month later, 14 journalists left their homes in Arauca Department for Bogotá. They decided to flee the region after a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who was allegedly in the process of defecting to a rival paramilitary militia warned that the journalists were being targeted by both groups, according to Carlos Pérez, a correspondent for RCN Televisión who is among the journalists who left Arauca on March 31. The journalists, who are now under the government’s protection program for journalists, have no immediate plans to return to the region.
In the latest case, Adonai Cárdenas Castillo, a reporter for the Cali-based El País newspaper in the city of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca Department, in western Colombia, received two telephone calls on April 2 during which unidentified men threatened to kill him because the newspaper had published an article that day by Cárdenas blaming a recent spate of violent deaths in the town on local paramilitary forces. Since then, Cárdenas has received three more death threats—the latest occurring on April 25, when another unknown man called vowing to take his life.
Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. During the last 10 years, more than 30 journalists have been murdered in the line of duty in Colombia—the third highest number for any country in that period.
Your administration has failed to protect journalists who are being targeted by the various factions in your country’s 40-year-old civil war. That has perpetuated a climate of impunity, leaving Colombian journalists wide open to attacks and intimidation. We urge you to ensure that these murders and threats are fully investigated and that the perpetrators are properly punished.
As an independent organization of journalists committed to defending our colleagues worldwide, we call on Your Excellency to help create a climate in which Colombian journalists can report the news without fear of reprisal.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your response.