In Colombia, Telesur correspondent detained on terror charges

New York, November 21, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the detention on Sunday night of Fredy Muñoz Altamiranda, Colombian correspondent for the regional television network Telesur.

Agents of the Colombian national intelligence service, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), detained Muñoz at 9 p.m. at Eldorado International Airport in Bogotá as he was returning from Telesur headquarters in Caracas, according to news reports and a CPJ source. Tito Augusto Gaitán, the journalist’s lawyer, told reporters that the arrest warrant was based on charges of “rebellion and terrorism.” Muñoz was taken to DAS headquarters in Bogotá then moved to the agency’s offices in the northern city of Barranquilla, about 590 miles (950 kilometers) away, a Telesur source told CPJ.

DAS said in a statement that a three-year investigation led authorities to link Muñoz to a series of terrorist attacks carried out in 2002 in Barranquilla and Cartagena. Authorities said witnesses identified Muñoz as one of several people who set off explosions that destroyed electrical towers along the Caribbean coast, the daily El Tiempo reported. The explosions had been linked to the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In a statement given by telephone to Telesur, Muñoz denied the charges against him, Reuters reported.

“These are extremely serious allegations and the onus is on the government to make its case in a timely and comprehensive manner,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We will be monitoring the case closely to ensure that due process is respected.”

Johana Pañuela, Telesur’s producer in Colombia, told the local press freedom group Fundación para la libertad de prensa (FLIP) that Muñoz has covered primarily human rights issues in the past year. Muñoz has had a long career in the Colombian media as a television producer and editor for Cartagena and Bogotá newspapers, El Tiempo reported.

A source at the Telesur offices in Bogotá told CPJ that Muñoz’s most recent reports involved paramilitary disarmament and links between Colombian congressmen and paramilitary forces. The source said the stories had been widely reported by the Colombian press as well.

Telesur called the arrest an attack against press freedom, and its president, Andrés Izarra, said the network considered Muñoz to be innocent. Telesur, a satellite television network financed by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, and Bolivia, went on the air on July 2005 with the intention of presenting a Latin American alternative to 24-hour news networks such as CNN.