TV host attacked and tortured

New York, February 4, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemns the recent violent attack against Colombian journalist and human rights activist Inés Peña, who was assaulted and tortured in the city of Barrancabermeja, Santander Department, last week.

On January 28 at around 3 p.m., two armed men abducted the journalist while she was walking in downtown Barrancabermeja. Peña, 22, belongs to the youth chapter of the women rights’ group Organización Femenina Popular, OFP (Women’s Popular Organization) and hosts the “Cultura por la Vida” (Culture for Life) segment of “La Mohana” television show, broadcast by the privately owned Canal Enlace 10 from Barrancabermeja.

According to CPJ sources, the assailants, who identified themselves as members of the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), pointed a gun at Peña and forced her into a car. They threatened Peña and physically abused her by shaving her hair and burning her feet with boiling water. The attackers told her to end her involvement with the television program.

Yolanda Becerra, president of the Women’s Popular Organization, told CPJ that in her weekly television segment, Peña speaks about young people who are affected by the Colombian civil war and constantly denounces human rights violations committed by armed groups. Becerra said the attack came in reprisal for Peña’s journalistic work. She has been threatened in the past.

The Barrancabermeja police have launched an investigation into the attack.

Barrancabermeja, a port city in northeastern Colombia, is controlled by paramilitary forces, which are often accused of flagrant human rights violations. In October 2003, Janeth Montoya, a reporter for the Barrancabermeja-based daily Vanguardia Liberal, received death threats after she reported a story exposing the social problems of a poor neighborhood where armed groups are active.

“We call on Colombian authorities to launch a full investigation into this outrageous attack and bring those responsible to justice,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The government must take immediate and effective action against illegal armed groups so journalists can continue their work without fear of reprisal.”