A threat and a shooting raise concerns in provincial capital

New York, February 8, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is very concerned that two weekend incidents in the Colombian city of Montería, capital of Córdoba province, will reinforce self-censorship in a region where journalists already work in fear. An investigative newspaper reporter fled the city on Sunday after receiving death threats, while a radio host was shot on Saturday and remained in critical condition today.

Antonio Rafael Sánchez, a freelance journalist who contributes to the leading Bogotá-based daily El Tiempo, left Montería on Sunday. The Córdoba ombudsman’s office disclosed details of the death threat over the weekend. On December 7, 2005, El Tiempo received an anonymous call at the main offices in Bogotá threatening to kill the paper’s investigative journalists and naming Sánchez specifically, the journalist told CPJ. The reporter said he was working on story about illegal appropriation of land in Córdoba. Sánchez and El Tiempo have filed a police complaint.

In the Saturday incident, two men aboard a motorcycle approached radio commentator Gustavo Rojas Gabalo at 8:45 p.m. as he opened his car in front of a local supermarket, Jorge Otero, editor of the Montería-based weekly Cuarta Opción, told CPJ. One of the men got off the motorcycle, removed his helmet, and shot the journalist twice at close range, Otero said. One bullet shattered Rojas’ collarbone, while the other caused head injuries, the local press said.

Rojas, better known as “El Gaba,” had been on the air for almost 30 years. His popular “El show de El Gaba,” aired daily on Radio Panzenú, features music, news, and commentary denouncing government corruption. A special police team has been formed to investigate the case, Gabriel Gaviria, a reporter at Radio Panzenú, told CPJ. According to local press reports, the investigation is seeking to determine whether the attack was related to Rojas’ radio commentary or to a traffic accident and argument in which the journalist was involved earlier on Saturday.

“The consistent failure of Colombian authorities to investigate attacks against journalists contributes to the climate of self-censorship in Montería and throughout the country,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. In October, CPJ issued a special report documenting extensive self-censorship throughout Colombia.