Colombia: Radio Journalist Flees Home Following Threats From Guerrilla Group

New York, February 8, 2008–Colombian journalist José Joaquín Chávez was forced to leave his home in Anzoátegui, in central Tolima province, after receiving several death threats from alleged members of a leftist guerrilla group.

Chávez, director of the Anzoátegui-based community radio station Acción Estéreo and correspondent for the regional radio station La Voz del Tolima, left his home early on Thursday morning, he told CPJ. He said he had received repeated threats to his cell phone and to the radio station from alleged members of Colombia’s most prominent leftist guerrilla movement, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

“We condemn those who threatened José Joaquín Chávez, and are very concerned for his safety,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

Chávez received the first threat on his phone on January 16, when an anonymous caller told him to stop airing paid advertisements from the Colombian army that asked guerrilla fighters to put down their weapons. The caller warned Chávez that he would also have to air “guerrilla ads,” and cautioned the journalist not to look for trouble. On the days that followed, individuals who identified themselves as FARC members called and asked Chávez to air greetings to other FARC fighters. When Chávez refused to air the messages, he began receiving death threats against him and his family.

On January 18, Chávez left Anzoátegui for two weeks. When he returned, on February 1, he received a text message warning him to “shut down the radio station or die.” Chávez and local press freedom group Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa called the local police, and they provided a security detail to guard the premises that day. The next day, Chávez received another message saying: “You just have one hour,” he told CPJ. Chávez shut down the radio station on January 4, and left Anzoátegui three days later.

Local police commander Andrés Rojas told CPJ that the local prosecutor’s office is investigating the threats. However, Chávez said that Colombian authorities are not currently providing him or his family with protection.

CPJ research found that in 2007, two Colombian reporters were forced to flee their homes following threats from FARC members. In May, Rodrigo Callejas, host of the daily news program “Debate 5” on the local radio station Fresno Estéreo, left his home in Tolima after receiving two telephone calls from an alleged guerrilla commander who warned the journalist to “stop messing with his people” if he didn’t want to die. In March, Darío Arizmendi, the Bogotá-based news director for the morning program “6 a.m. Hoy por Hoy” on national Caracol Radio, fled Colombia after hearing of an alleged FARC plot to kill him.