Gunmen kill Colombian vendor who collaborated on story

Bogotá, October 1, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Saturday’s murder of a Colombian newspaper vendor who had collaborated with journalists on exposing misbehavior by guards at a local prison, and calls on authorities to investigate.

Unidentified gunmen shot José Darío Arenas, 31, multiple times in the town of Caicedonia in the western province of Valle del Cauca, according to news reports. Arenas had been selling copies of Extra Quindío, a regional daily based in Armenia, the capital of nearby Quindío province, news reports said.

The top story in Extra Quindío on Saturday, which was written by reporter Andrés Mauricio Osorio, was about complaints by relatives of inmates who said they had been mistreated by guards at the Caicedonia prison. Osorio told CPJ that Arenas had pitched him the story idea, helped him find sources, and had taken photographs for the story. Arenas served as the paperboy and collaborator for the daily since the paper had no permanent reporter in the town, Osorio told CPJ.

Osorio said that José Daniel Ocampo, a vendor on the prison guards who had been quoted in the story criticizing the guards, received a threatening phone call after the murder with the message: “First one down.” The story cited Ocampo as saying that he knew about other kinds of wrongdoing by the guards.

Two police officers in Caicedonia refused to speculate to CPJ about the motive for the killing, citing the ongoing investigation. A spokesman for INPEC, the Colombian prison authority, did not respond to calls from CPJ seeking comment.

Juan Carlos Pérez, a photographer for Extra Quindío, said he believed the killing was directly related to the story on the prison guards and that it may have been a pre-emptive strike to scare reporters from digging any deeper. Pérez said Colombian prisons have been plagued by problems, such as prisoners trafficking drugs, extorting businesses, and ordering kidnappings and murders from behind bars, as well as guards facilitating lavish parties for inmates. Over the years, such scandals have forced the resignation of numerous prison wardens as well as directors of INPEC.

“The murder of José Darío Arenas symbolizes the deadly lengths to which perpetrators of crime and official abuse in Colombia will go to halt the flow of information,” said CPJ’s senior program coordinator Carlos Lauría, from New York. “Colombian authorities must fully investigate this crime, including the possibility of prison guard involvement, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Arenas is survived by his wife and three children.

Colombia has seen a resurgence in violence and intimidation against journalists in the past year. In September, Édison Alberto Molina, a lawyer and politician who hosted a radio program that he used to denounce government corruption, was shot and killed in the town of Puerto Berrío. Ricardo Calderón, who heads Semana magazine’s investigative unit, barely escaped a May 1 assassination attempt.