CPJ calls for probe into death threats against Bucaramanga editor

New York, July 25, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Colombian authorities to fully investigate death threats against a provincial journalist who criticized a local mayor.

Marcos Perales Mendoza, editor of the weekly regional newspaper Portada in the northeastern city of Bucaramanga, has already been given a bulletproof vest, and a two-way police radio by the Interior Ministry. But he says authorities are not investigating who is behind the death threats that began in May last year when he published stories on government corruption in the river port city of Barrancabermeja, and criticism of its mayor Edgar Cote Gravino.

Perales told CPJ the latest threat came in an e-mail on July 22. The note said the mayor would be reelected but Perales would not be alive to see it. Perales said he planned to leave the region in the next few days. He said the earlier threats warned him to stop writing about the mayor.

Cote has made no public statements about the threats against Perales. Officials at the mayor’s office told CPJ the mayor would not comment.

Two local journalists fled the region in January after reporting on paramilitary activities. Jenny Manrique, coordinator of a supplement for the Bucaramanga-based daily Vanguardia Liberal, left after receiving death threats for reporting on abuses by paramilitary forces. Diro César González, director of the weekly newspaper La Tarde de Santander, fled the oil-producing city of Barrancabermeja, 70 miles (112 kilometers) west of Bucaramanga, after the newspaper reported on the arrest of a paramilitary fighter in connection with a murder investigation. Read the CPJ news alerts on these threats on January 23 and March 2.

President Alvaro Uribe met with a CPJ delegation on March 15 and expressed his support for the work of provincial journalists who report under threat of violence. Uribe also conveyed his backing for journalists who report on corruption, saying that any government official who impedes the work of provincial journalists “is committing a crime against democracy.” See CPJ’s March 15 alert.

“We are deeply concerned by these threats against our colleague Marcos Perales,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on President Uribe to keep his pledge and ensure that Colombian journalists working in strife-ridden areas are able to do their jobs without fear of reprisals.”