Radio host flees Colombia following alleged plot to kill him

New York, October 13, 2009—Prominent radio journalist Herbin Hoyos Medina left Colombia on Monday after authorities uncovered a supposed plot to kill him, according to local news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the threats against Hoyos and urges authorities to continue to provide protection and ensure that the journalist can return to Colombia and work without fear of reprisal.    

Hoyos, director and host of the morning radio show “Voces del Secuestro” (Voices of the Kidnapped) on national Caracol Radio, told local reporters that he was forced to leave a public event in Bogotá on Thursday afternoon after he received a telephone tip from Colombian authorities saying that guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were planning to kill him. According to local and international news reports, the SUV carrying the journalist’s bodyguards was hit by an unidentified truck as he was leaving the event. Authorities said the car accident was part of the murder plot. Hoyos, who fled on a motorcycle, was unharmed.

Hoyos left for an undisclosed location in Europe on Monday, according to news reports, and Caracol Radio reported that he will continue to host “Voces del Secuestro” from abroad.

On Saturday, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez condemned the threat against Hoyos, and called on all Colombians to support the journalist’s work. Investigators said FARC leader José Benito Cabrera Cuevas, known as “Fabián Ramírez,” had ordered the hit, the national daily El Tiempo reported.

“Colombian authorities must immediately investigate these threats against Herbin Hoyos Medina,” said CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “Colombia must provide Hoyos with the necessary guarantees to allow him to return to the country and continue to work safely. Hoyos’ work is a solace for the thousands of victims of kidnappings in Colombia.”

“Voces del Secuestro” focuses on kidnapping victims in Colombia, and allows victims’ families to send messages to their loved ones. Hoyos, who was kidnapped by the FARC in the early 1990s, has hosted the program for 18 years. The journalist, who has received death threats in the past, said he has previously fled Colombia six times, the local press reported. He has had a permanent police bodyguard since 2002.

In a separate incident on May 11, Carlos Serrano, director and radio host for the Bogotá-based Radio Diversia, left Colombia after a group that identified itself as “La Organizacion” made death threats against him and other reporters from the radio station. La Organizacion has been linked to threats made against groups working with HIV/AIDS, the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender community, and sex workers, according to local news reports and CPJ interviews. In 2008, four Colombian journalists were forced to flee their homes after serious threats, according to CPJ research.