Colombian journalist escapes being doused in gasoline

New York, June 6, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Colombian authorities today to thoroughly investigate the attempted murder of the director of a provincial television station in Colombia. Mario Esteban López Ortega, known for his criticism of local authorities, escaped an assassination attempt on Tuesday after he was abducted in the city of Ipiales, Nariño province.

López, the director of the local television station Channel 22, was arriving home at night when he was approached by two men who forced their way into his vehicle, according to local press reports. The assailants put a cable around the journalist’s neck and forced him to drive to the outskirts of Ipiales, RCN radio reported.

The kidnappers ordered López to stop in an open field, according to news reports. After beating and insulting him, the attackers doused López and his car with gasoline. While the journalist fought back, a police car driving by alarmed the captors, who immediately fled the scene, according to news reports.    

López, who filed a complaint with the police, said he believes the attack is related to his criticism of local authorities and his coverage of drug trafficking in Ipiales. The journalist said he received anonymous telephone death threats two months ago.

“The attempted murder of Mario Esteban López is an alarming reminder of the many dangers that journalists still face in Colombia while reporting on sensitive issues,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We urge authorities to launch a thorough investigation, find the men who attacked him, and bring all those responsible to justice.”

López also said that Ipiales Mayor Gustavo Estupiñán Calvache had also recently threatened him in person after he aired a report on irregularities in the donation of several motorcycles to the local police, the press said. The mayor allegedly told López to “be careful” after a conversation about the story. In a statement published on Saturday on the town’s website, Estupiñán categorically rejected Lopez’s accusations. The official said he is looking forward to the investigation of the incident to establish whether it was related to the journalist’s work.

While Colombia is historically one of the most murderous places in the world for journalists, CPJ’s recently launched Impunity Index found that the country has improved its record for the fourth consecutive year as deadly anti-press violence has slowed and authorities have had some success in prosecuting journalist murders. Colombia ranks fifth in the index, which identifies countries worldwide where journalists are murdered regularly and governments are unable or unwilling to solve the crimes.