Journalist flees home after death threats

New York, October 24, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that a Colombian journalist has been forced into hiding following threats. Television host Otoniel Sánchez became the sixth journalist this year in Colombia to flee after being threatened or intimidated.

Unidentified gunmen fired six shots at Sánchez’s house in the town of Cartago, Valle del Cauca province, southwest of Bogotá, in the early hours of October 19. No one was injured. Sánchez, who presents a weekly sports program, “Tribuna deportiva,” on local television station CNC, told CPJ he left home the following day. He said the attack came after a series of death threats, warning him to stop making comments on the air. He asked CPJ not to disclose his location for fear of retaliation.

Sánchez said that he did not know who was responsible for the threats. He said he had criticized the provincial government’s management of public funds in sports. Last month, he criticized the government’s administration of a local skating rink.

“We are deeply worried by the attack and threats against Otoniel Sánchez,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This incident is part of a pattern of intimidation of provincial journalists in Colombia which the government in Bogota must help bring to an end.”

President Alvaro Uribe met with a CPJ delegation in Bogotá on March 15 and expressed 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.

On October 10, Sánchez received an anonymous note at the CNC office. “We are tired of your commentaries, and you will be killed,” the note read, according to Sánchez. On October 18, Sánchez received an anonymous call on his cellular phone asking him if he had received a package. When he arrived at CNC, staff told him that they had refused to take delivery of a suspicious package addressed to him. Later that day, Sánchez picked up the package but did not open it.

After the shooting, police went to Sánchez’s house and opened the package. Sánchez told CPJ they found three 9 mm bullets – the same type that were fired at his home – and a typewritten warning. The note reminded Sánchez of what had happened to his CNC colleague Oscar Polanco, who was murdered in 2004.

See CPJ documentation on the 2004 murder of Oscar Polanco:

Before the Sanchez attack, CPJ had documented five cases of Colombian journalists forced to flee their homes because of threats and intimidation in 2006. Although journalists in Bogotá and other large urban centers work more freely than their colleagues in the provinces, they also face pressure and intimidation, CPJ research shows.