After death threats, two Colombian journalists flee the country

New York, October 24, 2007—Colombian journalists Hollman Morris and Geovanny Álvarez Castro left the country last week following death threats linked to their reporting. The Committee to Protect Journalists called today on Colombian authorities to conduct a speedy investigation into the threats and to ensure that the two journalists are able to return to Colombia and work safely there.

Morris, an independent journalist and producer of the weekly investigative news program “Contravía” on television station Canal Uno, left Colombia with his family on Sunday, the journalist told CPJ. Morris, who is recognized for his investigative reporting on Colombia’s civil conflict, has previously been the subject of threats and harassment. He and his family are now in the United States.

Morris told CPJ that he received an e-mail message to his personal address on September 26 from a group calling itself Frente Patriotico Colombiano (Colombian Patriotic Front). The group stated that Moris had won a raffle for a coffin. In the message, reviewed by CPJ, the assailants said the journalist was “an anti-patriot, a member of the guerrillas, and a tattletale.” Leftist guerrillas, right wing paramilitaries, and Colombian armed forces have battled each other for five decades, committing heinous human rights violations along the way.

Álvarez, co-director and host of the daily news program “La Verdad” (The Truth) on community radio station La Nueva in the northern city of Sabanalarga, left Colombia two days before Morris, according to the local press freedom group Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa. Álvarez told the press freedom group that he received several anonymous death threats following his month-long reporting on local government corruption. On September 21, the Sabanalarga police had also informed the journalist of a possible attempt against his life. For fear of further reprisals, the journalist has kept his location secret.

“Colombian authorities must immediately investigate the death threats against Hollman Morris and Geovanny Álvarez, and bring all those responsible to justice,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “They must also ensure that the two journalists are able to return to Colombia by providing them with the necessary protection to guarantee that they can continue to work safely.” 

Gonzalo Guillén, Colombia correspondent for the Miami-based daily El Nuevo Herald, fled his home in Bogotá earlier this month after receiving more than 20 death threats. The threats came following comments made by President Álvaro Uribe Vélez on several national radio stations. CPJ sent a letter to Uribe on October 11 after the president made public accusations against another journalist, Daniel Coronell. In the letter, CPJ urged Uribe to publicly retract his comments on the two journalists, to respect dissent in the media, and to abstain from publicly attacking journalists who present critical views.