Colombian authorities arrest man in journalist slaying

New York, July 14, 2009–Colombian police have arrested a man believed to have gunned down veteran radio journalist José Everardo Aguilar in retaliation for his reporting on corruption in southwestern Cauca province. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the arrest and urges authorities to bring the masterminds to justice.

On Friday, the Colombian National Police arrested Arley Manquillo Rivera, also known as “El Huracán,” at a routine checkpoint outside the provincial capital, Popayán, according to an official police statement. Authorities believe Manquillo, who has alleged ties to the local drug trafficking gang Los Rastrojos, was hired to kill Aguilar, a police spokesman told CPJ. Police arrested Manquillo based on witness descriptions of the assailant, the spokesman said.

Manquillo denied involvement in the killing, local journalists told CPJ.

Aguilar worked as a correspondent in the southern city of Patía for the Popayán-based Radio Súper. According to police sources, investigators are looking into Aguilar’s reporting on local and provincial government corruption as a possible motive for his murder. The journalist’s son, Martín, and colleagues at Radio Súper told CPJ they believe Aguilar was targeted for his work.

“We welcome Colombian authorities’ speedy investigation into the murder of our colleague José Everardo Aguilar,” said CPJ Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “Authorities must ensure that all those involved in Aguilar’s killing, including the masterminds, are brought to justice.”

An individual posing as a delivery man entered Aguilar’s Patía home on the evening of April 25, saying he had a package of photos, according to CPJ research. Once inside, the assailant shot Aguilar, 72, three times and fled. Aguilar, who had reported for Radio Súper for 10 years, was known for his harsh criticism of corruption and links between local politicians and right-wing paramilitaries, according to CPJ interviews and local news reports. A 30-year veteran, he had also reported for national Caracol Radio and RCN, Colombian press reports said. Martín Aguilar told CPJ that his father had received death threats two years ago, but he did not know of recent incidents.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez had announced a reward for anyone with information on Aguilar’s murder, the Colombian press reported.

In a recent report, “Getting Away with Murder 2009,” CPJ found that the rate of journalist murders had declined slightly in Colombia, historically one of the world’s deadliest nations for the press. The government credits increased security, although CPJ research shows that pervasive self-censorship had made the press less of a target.