Journalist gets death threats after murder report

New York, January 23, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by death threats made against journalist Diro César González after his newspaper reported on a murder investigation in northeastern Santander province and the detention of a paramilitary fighter in connection with the killing. The journalist told CPJ that he and his wife have been forced to flee to Bogotá, and he has suspended publication of his weekly newspaper.

Two armed men aboard a motorcycle arrived at González’s home in Barrancabermeja last Tuesday and warned his wife, Tatiana Sánchez, that they had been ordered to kill the journalist, González told CPJ today. He said his wife recognized one of the men as José del Carmen Arévalo Quintero, the paramilitary fighter who had been freed that day after being held for two weeks in the murder case.

González’s home also serves as the office of his newspaper La Tarde, a five-year-old weekly that has published investigative reports on corruption, the armed conflict, and paramilitary activities in Santander. A December 26 article recounted a police investigation into the murder of a young woman in Barrancabermeja, and it was accompanied by photographs of the victim and the paramilitary fighter.

González said he was threatened previously. On December 20, two men whose faces were obscured by dark helmets told Sánchez that her husband’s name was atop a paramilitary “black list” of journalists targeted for assassination, González told CPJ. Two other journalists named on this “black list” recently fled Santander after receiving similar death threats, according to CPJ research.

“I am sad and scared,” González said. “It is very difficult to work as a journalist in a place where the paramilitaries control everything and want to eradicate all media.”

González said he lodged a police complaint about the threats. He and his wife left for Bogotá last Wednesday with the help of local authorities, the Colombian Ministry of the Interior, and the Fundación para la libertad de prensa (FLIP), a local press freedom group. Publication of La Tarde was indefinitely suspended.

“It’s outrageous that violent elements in Santander believe they can make open death threats with impunity. We urge the authorities to take these threats seriously and to bring those responsible to justice,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We’re alarmed by this pattern of intimidation so close to the May 2006 election when access to independent information will be crucial.”

In a special report issued in October and titled “Untold Stories,” CPJ said that editors, reporters, and other media professionals routinely muzzle themselves because they fear physical retribution from leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, along with harassment from government troops and officials. The attacks have caused the press to severely limit coverage of the armed conflict, human rights abuses, organized crime, drug trafficking, and corruption.