Three radio journalists threatened in Colombia

Bogotá, January 14, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Colombian authorities to ensure the safety of three radio journalists in the southern state of Guaviare who have received death threats in response to their coverage of an upcoming recall vote that could remove the local governor from office.

Erika Londoño, Gustavo Chicangana, and Jorge Ramírez work for Caracol Radio Guaviare, one of five stations in the state capital of San José del Guaviare, and have covered the February 2 recall vote that will determine whether Governor José Octaviano Rivera will remain in office, Londoño, the station’s director, told CPJ.

A series of threatening text messages was sent to Londoño’s mobile phone on December 20 and January 8, according to the journalist and news reports. Londoño told CPJ that the messages warned the three journalists to stop reporting and airing listener comments related to the recall vote. One of the text messages said: “If you continue talking about the recall vote, we are going to blow up you, the radio station, as well as your messengers Chica and Ramírez.”

Londoño said she did not know who had sent the messages but that the station has clashed with Rivera since he was elected in 2011. Public discontent with Rivera led to a petition for the recall election.

Rivera is under investigation by the Colombian attorney general’s office for mismanagement of public contracts, but has denied the allegations. After Radio Caracol Guaviare reported on the allegations against Rivera, Londoño said, the governor at a public meeting called the station’s reporters “assassins with microphones.” The station filed a defamation lawsuit against Rivera, who subsequently sued Radio Caracol Guaviare for defamation. Both lawsuits are pending.

Messages left by CPJ with the governor’s office were not answered. In a January 13 statement issued by his office, Rivera condemned the death threats and the way he said reporters were trying to link him to “anti-democratic practices.”

The Colombia attorney general’s office opened an investigation into the death threats. The Bogotá-based Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP) has called on the National Protection Unit of the Attorney General to increase security for the three journalists, who have vowed to continue reporting on the governor and the recall vote. Following threats against Londoño last year, the Unit assigned her two bodyguards.

“Erika Londoño, Gustavo Chicangana, and Jorge Ramírez should not face harassment for reporting on issues of public interest,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “Colombian authorities must fully investigate these threats and guarantee that journalists can do their jobs without fearing for their lives.”

Colombia saw a resurgence in violence and intimidation against journalists in 2013, according to CPJ research. One journalist and one media support worker were murdered in direct retaliation for their work.