Journalists threatened with death in three Colombian states

September 30, 2014 4:59 PM ET

Bogotá, September 30, 2014--The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by death threats against numerous journalists in different states in Colombia over the past week and calls on authorities to ensure the journalists' safety. All of the journalists had reported on criminal activities in the region.

"Local criminal groups are unabashedly and publicly threatening journalists as a means of silencing reporting on their activities," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. "Authorities must investigate these threats and bring those responsible to justice so these intimidating messages do not continue. The victims are not only the journalists but the public, which is deprived of information on criminal activity in Colombia."

On Sunday, the drug trafficking group Los Urabeños threatened in an email pamphlet to kill eight journalists unless they fled the cities of Buenaventura and Cali in Valle del Cauca state, according to news reports. The journalists cover criminal justice issues in both cities. The Urabeños group is one of Colombia's largest crime gangs.

It is not clear if the journalists have left the cities. Some of them have asked that their names not be publicized. One, Henry Ramírez, a photographer for the Buenaventura newspaper Q´Hubo, told CPJ he planned to meet with his editors to decide whether or not to continue reporting in Buenaventura.

The Urabeños group complained in the pamphlet about the news coverage of the capture in Chile last week of one of its alleged members. On September 25, Q´Hubo printed a front-page photo of the alleged member and a caption that identified her as the "queen" of the city's torture houses, according to Jonathan Bock, who heads the journalist protection program at the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

Bock told CPJ that Buenaventura authorities held a meeting on Monday to address the threats. He said police officers were interviewing the journalists and that the government's National Protection Unit was analyzing the situation to decide what security measures to take.

Ramirez told CPJ that simply taking photos or writing short dispatches about the arrest or murder of drug traffickers had become dangerous. The Urabeños dominate many of Buenaventura's neighborhoods and are involved in deadly territorial disputes with other crime gangs, according to Colombian officials and human rights groups. The city is a major export point for cocaine headed to Central America and Mexico.

In a separate incident on Thursday, a pamphlet was distributed in the city of Montería in northern Córdoba state that threatened the lives of 24 people, including high-ranking politicians, activists, and two journalists, according to news reports. The pamphlet, which was signed by the criminal gang Los Rastrojos, threatened Leiderman Ortiz Berrío, of the weekly newspaper La Verdad del Pueblo in the northern Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia state, and Edgar Astudillo, of Radio Pnzenú in Montería, the reports said.

Ortiz and Astudillo, who report on local criminal activity, have been threatened and attacked before, according to news reports. FLIP said in a statement that both journalists have police protection.

Earlier this month, El Heraldo reporter Amalfi Rosales fled her home in northern La Guajira state and sought government protection after gunmen fired at her house and she received death threats. Rosales had reported on alleged links between a former state governor and criminal groups.

Journalists reporting on sensitive issues like the country's decades-long armed conflict, crime, and corruption have faced renewed violence and intimidation in recent years, according to CPJ research. Radio director Luis Carlos Cervantes Solano was killed in the Bajo Cauca region in August in unclear circumstances.

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