Colombian journalist dies after being in police custody

Bogotá, November 30, 2012–Top Colombian police officials must conduct an intensive investigation into the actions of local police during their arrest of freelance journalist Guillermo Quiroz Delgado, who died Tuesday night, seven days after he was hospitalized for injuries suffered while in custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Quiroz, 31, lapsed into a coma and died of a heart attack in the María Reina clinic in Sincelejo, according to news reports. He was a part-time journalist for Notisabanas, a nightly cable TV news program in Sincelejo, the capital of northern Sucre department, and also contributed to the El Meridiano daily newspaper in Montería, the capital of neighboring Córdoba department.

Police detained Quiroz and impounded his motorcycle while he was covering a protest on November 20 in the town of San Pedro, where residents were demonstrating against a local natural gas company in connection with its perceived reluctance to hire local workers, according to Edgardo Ochoa, an editor and producer at Notisabanas. Police told Quiroz he lacked the proper insurance papers for his motorcycle, Ochoa said.

Quiroz told Notisabanas in an interview the next day that officers put him on a police truck. Then, he said, “A policeman grabbed me, beat me, and threw me from the moving vehicle.” The interview was the last one Quiroz gave before he died, Ochoa said. The journalist, whose head appears battered and bloody in the video, was vomiting blood during the interview, Ochoa told CPJ.

News accounts reported that Col. Salvador Gutiérrez, chief of the Colombian National Police in Sucre department, initially said that Quiroz had been detained after getting into a fight with a police officer and that he had fallen off the police truck. But National Police Inspector Gen. Santiago Parra announced today that three officers were being suspended while the case was being investigated, according to news reports.

Quiroz said police told him he was targeted because of his news coverage, according to Ochoa.

Ochoa told CPJ that Quiroz had upset local authorities recently by reporting on the theft of cattle that were later found on a farm owned by a former San Pedro politician. Ochoa said that Quiroz had also reported on a case of police brutality in San Pedro. He said Quiroz had received a death threat on his cellphone in October and had traveled from San Pedro to Sucre to report the threat to the police and to the local office of the Attorney General.

“The abuse that Guillermo Quiroz Delgado described is shocking and demands an independent, high-level investigation,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “The possibility that Quiroz was mistreated in retaliation for his work underscores the seriousness of this case and the necessity that authorities bring those responsible to justice.”

At Quiroz’ burial Thursday, protesters clashed with police who used tear gas and water cannons to repel them, according to news reports. Four police officers and 50 civilians were injured, the reports said.

While journalist killings have decreased in Colombia in recent years, journalists have faced resurgent violence from illegal armed groups in 2012.

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