Unidentified gunmen in Colombia fire shots outside paper’s offices

New York, February 22, 2007—Unidentified gunmen fired shots outside the offices of the Cali-based bimonthly publication La Razón on Tuesday, injuring three people. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating whether the incident was an attack against the paper’s director, Édgar Buitrago Rico, who had been threatened with death.

At 3: 45 p.m. on Tuesday, two armed men approached La Razón’s offices in Cali, 273 miles (440 km.) southwest of Bogotá, Buitrago told CPJ. One of the assailants attacked Buitrago’s bodyguard, Gustavo Adolfo Alape, while the second tried to break into the paper. According to Buitrago, Alape drew his weapon and shots were fired from both sides before the attackers ran away. Alape was shot in the hand, and a printing press employee and a passerby received minor injuries to the legs. Buitrago was in his office while the gunshots were fired.

Buitrago told CPJ he believes the attack was retaliation for his critical reporting on local government corruption in La Razón.

On February 8, the journalist received an unsigned e-mail message to the paper’s address warning him that if he kept up his reporting, he would meet his aggressor in the next life. Buitrago said that in August and September 2006, he received repeated calls to his cell phone from unidentified individuals, threatening him with death.

General Luis Alberto Moore, chief of the Cali police, told local reporters yesterday that Tuesday’s attack was in no way related to Buitrago’s work. According to the Cali-based daily El País, Moore affirmed that local police had information linking the attack to another person. CPJ’s attempts to reach Moore were unsuccessful.

“We call on Cali authorities to fully investigate Tuesday’s attack and the death threats against our colleague Édgar Buitrago,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists in Cali should be provided with the necessary protection to allow them to continue their work.”

Colombia’s Ministry of Interior granted Buitrago police protection in 2004 after he had been forced to flee Cali following repeated death threats. CPJ research shows that Buitrago also fled Cali in 2002 after he received death threats linked to his reporting on government corruption for the Cali-based publication Revista Valle 2000. The Ministry of Interior and the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) granted Buitrago two new bodyguards following Tuesday’s attacks.

President Alvaro Uribe met with a CPJ delegation in Bogotá in March 2006 and expressed support for provincial journalists reporting on corruption, saying that any government official who impedes the work of provincial journalists “is committing a crime against democracy.” At least seven local reporters left their homes in Colombia in 2006 after death threats. Two provincial reporters were murdered in retaliation for their work last year, while CPJ is investigating the circumstances surrounding a third slaying.