Radio journalist flees his home after guerrilla threats

New York, May 25, 2007—Colombian radio journalist Rodrigo Callejas has been forced to flee his home in the western Tolima province after receiving death threats from an alleged guerrilla commander. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Colombian authorities today to provide Callejas with the necessary protection to allow him to work without fear of reprisal.

Callejas, host of the daily news program “Debate 5” on the local radio station Fresno Estéreo, told CPJ that he left his home in Fresno, a city 88 miles (142 kilometers) from the provincial capital of Ibagué, after receiving two threatening phone calls from a man who identified himself as commander of a subgroup of the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). According to Callejas, the caller warned him that he should “stop messing with his people” if the journalist didn’t want to die. Later, the caller told Callejas that he was being followed and that he should not allow police to trace his calls, the journalist told CPJ.

Callejas said that in the weeks preceding the calls he had reported on guerrilla activities in Fresno. According to the journalist, he reported on guerrilla extortion of local businesses, the kidnapping and murder of a local landowner, and the trial of four guerrilla fighters.

The journalist said that he filed a complaint with local authorities and informed the Ministry of Interior in Bogotá, which gave him an emergency telephone. As a precautionary measure, Callejas told CPJ that he had decided to report for “Debate 5” via telephone from outside Fresno until he was sure that his return would be safe.

“We are alarmed by the threats against Rodrigo Callejas,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Colombian authorities to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, to apprehend those behind the threats, and to immediately provide Callejas with the necessary protection that will allow him to return to Fresno and to continue to work.”

In March, Germán Hernández, news director of Neiva-based daily El Diario del Huila, fled his hometown after receiving anonymous death threats. That same month, 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 plot to kill him. 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.