Two Colombian journalists flee after death threats and murder plot

New York, March 27, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by death threats against Colombian journalist Germán Hernández, who fled his hometown, and a murder plot against journalist Darío Arizmendi, who fled the country this month.

“We are concerned by the death threats against our colleague Germán Hernández, as well as by allegations of a plot to kill Darío Arizmendi,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge Colombian authorities to thoroughly investigate both incidents, provide the necessary protection to ensure that the two journalists are able to continue their work, and to bring those responsible to justice.”

Hernández, news director of Neiva-based daily El Diario del Huila, told CPJ he left his home in Neiva, 202 miles (326 kilometers) southwest of Bogotá, on March 13. The journalist said that since February 27 he had received seven calls on his cell phone from unidentified individuals who warned that he was going to die. Every call was placed from a pay-phone, and at least one came from a store across the street from the paper’s office, Hernández told CPJ.

Hernández believes the threats are linked to a series of five articles El Diario del Huila published between December 2006 and February 2007 on corruption at a local hospital. The articles resulted in two arrests and illustrated the link between hospital management and local government officials, Hernández said.

While the Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and the national police are investigating the threats against him, Hernández said he decided to leave Neiva with his family after reviewing the situation with the paper’s managers. He asked CPJ to keep his current location secret for fear of reprisal.

On March 16, local media reported that 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 plot to kill him. In a public statement, Caracol Radio said “absolutely trustworthy sources” had informed the journalist of a plan by an unidentified group to murder him. Caracol Radio did not disclose Arizmendi’s whereabouts, but indicated he would continue to work on his news program from abroad. CPJ’s messages at Caracol Radio have not been returned.

Arizmendi later released a personal statement indicating he knew of two failed attempts on his life within the last six months, according to local press reports.

On March 18, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez offered a reward of 100 million pesos (US$476,000) for information on the case, according to international press reports. The leading Colombian daily El Tiempo reported that Uribe’s government declared the investigation into the threats against Arizmendi of highest importance.

CPJ research shows that at least seven provincial reporters fled their homes in 2006 after death threats. Although journalists in Bogotá and other large urban centers work more freely than their colleagues in the provinces, they also face pressure and intimidation, according to CPJ analysis.