In Colombia, a provincial radio journalist is murdered

New York, August 11, 2006—Colombian radio host Milton Fabián Sánchez was gunned down on Wednesday night outside his home in Yumbo, in the southwestern Valle del Cauca province. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating whether there is a connection between the murder and Sánchez’ work.

A masked assailant shot Sánchez three times in the face at 9:45 p.m., the journalist’s colleague, Leonardo Orozco, told CPJ. Witnesses said the assailant had been waiting in bushes behind Sánchez’ home, he said. Sánchez was taken to a local hospital and then to Valle University Hospital in the provincial capital, Cali, before dying at around midnight, Orozco said.

Sánchez was host of three weekly programs on local radio station Yumbo Estéreo. Two, “Notas de Gestión” and “La Personería,” were civic education programs funded by the local government. The third, “Mesa Redonda,” was a community-based opinion program, Orozco told CPJ.

During “Mesa Redonda” broadcasts, Orozco said, Sánchez sometimes criticized the performance of the local government. Sánchez had once been spokesman for the local mayor, according to the mayor’s press office. Orozco said that Sánchez had not mentioned getting threats.

Cali Police Cmdr. José Roberto León told CPJ that a joint investigation with the Cali state prosecutor was opened. There are no concrete leads, he said, and Sánchez’ journalism is being considered.

In March, President Alvaro Uribe met with a CPJ delegation and expressed support for the work of provincial journalists who often work 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 saddened and alarmed by the death of our colleague Milton Fabián Sánchez, the second provincial journalist murdered this year in Colombia,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We urge President Uribe to keep his pledge to protect provincial journalists by ensuring a thorough investigation into Sánchez’ murder.”

Colombian radio commentator Gustavo Rojas Gabalo, known as “El Gaba,” 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 on 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.