Colombian court issues arrest warrant for Daniel Coronell

New York, March 25, 2009–A court in Colombia has issued an arrest warrant for prominent journalist Daniel Coronell for contempt of court after he failed to correct for a second time a story linking a local businessman to drug trafficking, the Committee to Protect Journalists learned today. CPJ calls on the judge to withdraw the contempt ruling until an appeal is heard. 

On March 18, the Penal Court of the Granada Circuit in Meta issued an arrest warrant for Coronell, news director of the TV network Canal Uno and columnist for the newsmagazine Semana, for contempt of court, a spokesman for the court told CPJ. In the document, reviewed by CPJ, the court ordered Coronell to be held for three days, and to pay a fine of 2 million pesos (US$844).

The case stems from an injunction filed by Meta businessman Reinel Gaitán Tangarife against Coronell as director of Canal Uno’s “Noticias Uno” and the national daily El Tiempo after Coronell and the paper published a story in September 2008 linking Gaitán to local drug trafficking. Gaitán denied the allegations and sought a correction. Gaitán claimed that his rights had been violated, CPJ sources said, and requested before a judge in Meta that both media outlets correct the information.   

In early October 2008, a Meta judge ordered Coronell and El Tiempo to air and print corrections, which both outlets did. Noticias Uno and El Tiempo appealed the decision, which was upheld in January 2009 by the Superior Court of Villavicencio, according to legal documents reviewed by CPJ. The high court ordered a second identical correction, which Coronell refused to publish, saying it is illegal.

“With all due respect to the court, we question the legality of ordering a second correction and urge the court to withdraw the contempt order and give Daniel Coronell the chance to pursue all additional legal recourse available to him,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ Americas senior program coordinator. “Holding Coronell in contempt without adequate due process smacks of judicial harassment and sets a precedent that will weaken judicial guarantees in Colombia and chill reporting.”

Coronell spent two years in exile in the U.S. after receiving two funeral wreaths in 2005 bearing cards that invited him to his own burial. He also received e-mail messages threatening the life of his young daughter, which were sent from the computer of former Congressman Carlos Náder Simmonds, a close friend of President Álvaro Uribe. Náder later admitted sending one e-mail but claimed it was misinterpreted. The former congressman was not charged.