Veteran TV reporter shot dead in central Colombia

New York, September 24, 2009—Veteran television journalist Diego de Jesús Rojas Velásquez was gunned down Tuesday outside the central Colombian city of Supía, according to interviews and press reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Colombian authorities to thoroughly investigate the killing.

Rojas, a reporter and cameraman for the Supía-based community station Supía TV in central Caldas province, left the station’s studio around 6 p.m. after receiving a purported tip about an unspecified story, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. Shortly after, authorities found his body with four gunshot wounds on a highway connecting Caldas to neighboring Antioquía province, local and international press reports said. Witnesses told local reporters that they heard Rojas arguing with several unidentified individuals prior to the gunshots. Investigators found the reporter’s motorcycle with the keys in the ignition near the scene of the crime, the regional daily La Patria said.

Rojas, 52, worked as a journalist in Supía for more than 30 years, colleagues said. He had also worked for the regional TV station Cable Unión and contributed occasionally to local dailies, according to local news reports. Juan Carlos Taborda, Supía TV’s director, said Rojas covered sports and social news, but did not report on sensitive issues, according to a report in La Patria. Local police and family members said he had not received any threats, the Spanish news service EFE reported.

Local authorities are investigating the murder, according to the Colombian press. Supía Mayor Germán Ovidio Tobón said investigators believe the killing to be linked to Rojas’ personal life, the national daily El Tiempo reported. Colombian authorities offered a 15 million peso (US$7,100) reward.

“Although the number of killed journalists has dropped in Colombia over the last five years, the murder of Diego de Jesús Rojas Velásquez is a reminder of the vulnerable and dangerous conditions for reporters in the interior,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on Colombian authorities to conduct an comprehensive investigation and to determine whether Rojas’ murder was related to his work as a journalist.”

In a recent report, “Getting Away with Murder 2009,” CPJ found that the rate of journalist murders had declined slightly. However, Colombia has historically been 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.

One Colombian journalist was slain earlier this year. On April 24, an unidentified individual posing as a delivery man entered the home of radio journalist José Everardo Aguilar in southwestern Cauca province, fatally shooting the journalist. Aguilar, 72, was a correspondent for Radio Súper in the southern city of Patía and hosted a daily news program on community radio station Bolívar Estéreo. He was known for his harsh criticism of corruption and links between local politicians and right-wing paramilitaries. In July, the Colombian National Police arrested Arley Manquillo Rivera, also known as “El Huracán,” in connection to Aguilar’s killing.