Colombian radio commentator gunned down in his home

New York, August 28, 2006—Colombian radio commentator Atilano Segundo Pérez Barrios was murdered last week in his apartment in the northern city of Cartagena in the Bolívar province, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating whether Pérez’ murder is related to his journalistic work.

An unidentified assailant forced his way into Pérez’ apartment around 9 p.m. on August 22, shooting him twice on the abdomen, a family member told CPJ on condition of anonymity. According to local news reports, the assailant fled on the back of a motorcycle. Pérez was taken to the Hospital Universitario del Caribe, where he was pronounced dead.

Pérez leased a one-hour, Sunday-morning time slot from Radio Vigía de Todelar for his program, “El Diario de Marialabaja,” station Manager Doris Jiménez told CPJ. The show focused on news from Pérez’ hometown of Marialabaja, 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of Cartagena.

Jairo Baena, president of a local journalists union, told CPJ that Pérez often denounced government corruption and paramilitary influence in Marialabaja. In his last show, on August 20, he accused the five candidates for mayor of Marialabaja of being financed by right-wing paramilitary groups, the local press reported. The family member told CPJ that Pérez had received recent death threats.

Pérez had been a member of the Marialabaja town council and a deputy in Bolívar provincial assembly a decade ago, but he was no longer involved in politics, the Cartagena-based daily El Universal reported.

The family member said Pérez, while not a lawyer, also provided assistance in legal cases; the relative could not elaborate. Local police told CPJ that they are investigating the murder. A police spokesman told local reporters that the investigation had produced no immediate leads.

In July 2005, nearly 600 paramilitary fighters affiliated with the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) demobilized in Marialabaja, Agence France-Presse reported. But human rights organizations monitoring the demobilization say many fighters remain active, AFP reported.

“We’re alarmed by the death of Atilano Segundo Pérez, and we urge local authorities to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

On August 9, radio host Milton Fabián Sánchez was gunned down outside his home in Yumbo, in southwestern Valle del Cauca province. The motives behind his murder remain unclear. Radio commentator Gustavo Rojas Gabalo died on March 20 from injuries he suffered in a February 4 shooting in the northwestern city of Montería, in the Córdoba province. Four men have been arrested in connection with the murder, but no details have been disclosed as to why Rojas was killed or who was behind his murder.

This year alone, CPJ has documented five cases of Colombian journalists forced to flee their homes because of threats and intimidation.