Provincial Colombian journalist threatened

New York, October 5, 2011 – The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by threats made against Ana María Ferrer, a freelance Colombian journalist in the northern state of Cesar, who has denounced government corruption and the mishandling of mining royalties.

“Colombian authorities must investigate these threats and take all measures to protect Ana María Ferrer,” said CPJ’s Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “It is essential that journalists be able to report critically on issues of public interest without fear of reprisal.”

Ferrer told CPJ that on Thursday, a man who identified himself as a member of the criminal group “Los Urabeños” called the Radio Guatapurí  station in the city of Valledupar and said the group had ordered attacks against several people in the city, including Ferrer. “Tell Ana María Ferrer not to go out, to take care of herself,” the caller, who said he was known as “Fabián,” told the radio station. He added that he knows where Ferrer lives.

Ferrer reports for the Valledupar TV news program “La Cuarta Columna” on channel 12, is a member of the board of directors of the daily newspaper El Pilón, and is the local representative for the Bogotá-based press group Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

The caller indicated that the threat was connected to Ferrer’s reporting on Los Urabeños, a drug-trafficking criminal group that operates in Northern Colombia and has its origins in disbanded right-wing paramilitary groups, according to local press reports. But Ferrer told CPJ that she suspects the threat is related to her work as director of communications for a civil society group called the Comité de Seguimiento a la Inversión de Regalias (“Royalties Investment Watchdog Committee”). Ferrer also edits and reports for the committee’s newsletter, El Observador de las Regalias (“The Royalties Observer”), which has published numerous stories about the mishandling of millions of dollars in coal royalties by local and regional government officials. Coal royalties are the main source of government income in Valledupar and surrounding towns, Ferrer said.

Ferrer has received police escorts in Valledupar and has reported the threat to the Ministry of the Interior, she told CPJ.

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. Death threats forced reporter Walfran Torres Gómez to flee from Cesar in February.

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.