Video’s accusation raises alarm in Colombia

New York, April 4, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that a little-known group is seeking to link Colombian journalist Hollman Morris to a leftist guerrilla group. The claim, which Morris dismissed, is contained in a recently circulated video and could endanger the reporter’s life.

Two weeks ago, Morris told CPJ, he received a video describing illegal activities by the leftist guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The video describes Morris and several politicians as being FARC supporters.

In an article published on Sunday in the Bogotá-based weekly El Espectador, Morris said that a new group, known as “Frente Social por la Paz,” has taken credit for the video. The group bills itself as a non-governmental organization; Morris and other local sources told CPJ that it is believed to have ties to right-wing paramilitaries.

According to Morris, the video was distributed in Córdoba province before it was sent to a local non-governmental organization in Bogotá that delivered it to Morris. The journalist gave a copy of the video to the attorney general’s office on Friday, asking that the office investigate the tape’s origin.

Morris, an independent journalist and producer of the weekly news show “Contravía” on television station Canal Uno, is recognized for his investigative reporting on Colombia’s civil conflict. He has been the subject of threats and harassment.

In May 2005, Morris and two other well-known Colombian journalists received burial wreaths with cards expressing “sincere condolences.” Morris also received telephone death threats, but an investigation by the attorney general’s office reported no progress.

The next month, when Morris was reporting for a BBC documentary, Colombian president Álvaro Uribe accused the journalist of being linked to the FARC in an interview with W Radio. Uribe later issued a retraction.

As a result of the threats against Morris, the Administrative Department of Security, the national intelligence service, has provided the reporter with a permanent police escort, a bullet-proof vest, and an armored car.

Perceived ties to leftist guerrillas, government security forces, or paramilitary groups can put Colombian journalists at great risk. CPJ research shows that journalists have been threatened, attacked, and murdered for apparent links to armed actors in the Colombian civil war.

The new accusations could also be used to discredit Morris’ reporting on human rights abuses.

Read CPJ’s special report on violence and self-censorship in Colombia.

Read Uribe’s recent statements in support of Colombian journalists.