Provincial journalist shot to death in Colombia

New York, July 5, 2011Luis Eduardo Gómez, a Colombian freelance journalist who was a witness for an investigation into links between politicians and paramilitary groups, was shot and killed on Thursday in the town of Arboletes, in the northwestern province of Antioquia, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Colombian authorities today to thoroughly investigate his murder and bring those responsible to justice. 

Gómez, 70, was returning home at night with his wife when he was gunned down by unidentified assailants who fled the scene on a motorcycle, according to local press reports. Gómez had reported on local corruption and links among politicians and illegal right-wing paramilitary groups in the Urabá region of Antioquia, the Colombian press freedom group Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) said.  Most recently, he had written about tourism and the environment for the newspapers El Heraldo de Urabá and Urabá al día, among others, the Colombian press said.

According to the newspaper El Colombiano, the journalist had not received any threats prior to his death.

Gómez was participating as a witness in the attorney general’s investigation of links between politicians and right-wing paramilitary groups, a scandal known as “parapolitics.” Another witness in the case was killed a few days before the journalist’s death, and investigators said other witnesses have disappeared, according to press reports. Gómez was also investigating the unsolved murder of his son, who was also his professional collaborator, and was killed two years ago, the daily El Espectador said.

“We urge Colombian authorities to fully investigate the murder of freelance reporter Luis Eduardo Gómez, establish whether he was killed for his work, and bring those responsible to justice,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Colombia has made progress recently in its fight against impunity in journalist murders. It must not allow this new killing to set its progress back.”

The parapolitics scandal broke in late 2006, after the weekly newsmagazine Semana published a series of investigative pieces that forced Colombian authorities to examine the alleged associations. Dozens of former and current members of Congress have been detained or investigated since 2007, the press said. 

The Urabá region of Antioquia province has been marked by violence for some time and was controlled for many years (until 2006) by the paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), press reports said. Colombian provincial journalists, working in areas where paramilitaries and other illegal armed groups are prevalent, face challenges in trying to report on the organizations’ activities, CPJ research shows.

With 43 journalists killed for their work since 1992, Colombia has historically been one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, CPJ research shows. However, CPJ’s Impunity Index has showed that over the past four years the country is improving its record, as anti-press violence has slowed and authorities have had some success in prosecuting journalist murders.