CPJ alarmed by threats against journalists and press freedom group

New York, June 14 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a spate of threats of violence this month against Colombian journalists and nongovernmental organizations, including the press freedom group Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP).

An unknown group calling itself Frente Democrático Colombia Libre (Free Colombia Democratic Front) sent e-mails on June 7 to FLIP and other civil society groups, accusing them of having ties to guerrillas, and declaring them military targets. 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 perceived links to these three groups in Colombia’s civil war.

The threatening e-mails were addressed to “revolutionaries disguised as NGOs, supposed leaders, lawyers, and journalists masked as civilians hidden behind their columns.” They described the organizations as fronts for the guerrillas, and accused them of discrediting Colombia’s image abroad. In Colombia, “there is no conflict or war, there is just a group of guerrilla revolutionaries that favor the continuous violation of people’s rights,” they said.

The threats were also received by Iván Cepeda a columnist for the weekly El Espectador, by a human rights group, Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, and by two universities, Universidad de Antioquia, and Universidad Nacional.

The e-mails dismissed recent bomb threats made against journalists in Barranquilla, which it attributed to the left-wing guerrilla group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

On June 3, two packages were delivered to the homes of Armando Benedetti Jimeno and Ernesto McCausland Sojo, columnists for El Heraldo de Barranquilla. The packages contained clocks and wires, meant to look like bombs, the Colombian press reported. Benedetti, who was Minister of Communications from 1994 to 1998, told CPJ that the packages also contained notes warning them “don’t stick your nose in things that are none of your business. Next time, I will make it explode.”

Two days later, another package was sent to the daily’s director, Gustavo Bell Lemus, who was Colombia’s vice-president from 1998-2002. The three journalists have recently criticized corruption in the local government, said the local press.

National and local authorities launched an immediate investigation into the threats against El Heraldo de Barranquilla, and reinforced security for the three journalists. On June 6, the government offered a reward of 100 million pesos (US$42,000) to anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of those responsible.

“We are alarmed by the widespread threats against journalists and nongovernmental organizations in Colombia,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on President Álvaro Uribe to publicly condemn these shocking acts of intimidation, to provide the necessary measures to allow Colombian journalists to continue to do their job in safety, and to urge the attorney general to investigate every threat.”