Colombian journalist shot to death in Huila state

Bogotá, Colombia, September 11, 2015–A Colombian journalist was shot dead on Thursday in front of the radio station where she worked, according to news reports. Flor Alba Núñez Vargas had received threats in connection with her reporting, a local journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“We condemn the killing of Flor Alba Núñez Vargas and urge authorities to thoroughly investigate the crime, including threats she had received for her reporting,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on President Juan Manuel Santos to make good on his pledge to reverse Colombia’s terrible record of impunity by bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice.”

An unidentified gunman shot Núñez, a TV and radio reporter, in front of La Preferida Estero radio station in the southern city of Pitalito, according to news reports citing Col. Santiago Camelo, the police commander of surrounding Huila state. Camelo said Núñez was shot once in the back of the head and died at a local hospital.

Núñez, 25, hosted an hour-long daily news program called Red Noticias (Network News) at La Preferida Estero station. She also reported for the local Channel 6 station and was a correspondent for Nación TV, based in Neiva, the capital of Huila state.

Camelo said police were investigating the crime and that Nuñez had not reported receiving threats to the police. Camelo said authorities were offering a 55 million peso (about US$18,000) reward for information leading to the apprehension of the killer.

Hugo Joven, the director of La Preferida Estero, told CPJ that Núñez had never told anyone at the station that she had been threatened. But María del Carmen Villalba, Nuñez’s colleague at Nación TV, told CPJ that many of Núñez’s recent reports had sparked controversy and that she had received threats.

Villalba told CPJ that in August Núñez reported on how several men in Pitalito, who claimed to have been attacked by a bull terrier, hung the dog from a lamppost. Núñez also posted pictures of the dog and its alleged killers, whom she later interviewed, on her Facebook page. The story went viral in Colombia, and Núñez began receiving threats from the alleged perpetrators, Villalba told CPJ. She said animal rights activists were upset with Núñez for having interviewed the dog’s alleged killers.

Villalba also told CPJ that Núñez had filed stories on soldiers forcibly rounding up young men on the streets of Pitalito and conscripting them into the Colombian army. Although Colombia has a military draft, such operations are illegal. The Constitutional Court forbid the practice in January. Villalba said Núñez later received threatening phone calls from military personnel but never reported them to authorities. CPJ contacted a spokesman at the Colombian army’s press office today who said that no one was available to comment on the allegation.

Villalba said Nuñez had also reported on the arrests and trials of drug traffickers and other local criminals who could have been angered by her coverage. The Bogotá-based Foundation for Freedom of the Press, or FLIP, said one possible motive was that Nuñez had recently posted photos on her Facebook page of a criminal band that carried out robberies in Pitalito.

While security in Colombia has improved in recent years, impunity is entrenched and threats and violence against journalists continue, according to CPJ research. Problems such as overburdened prosecutors and mishandling of evidence have delayed criminal investigations for years. Colombia ranked eighth on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, an annual survey spotlighting countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free. On May 26, President Juan Manuel Santos told CPJ he would prioritize combating impunity in attacks against the press and would urge judicial authorities to speed up investigations.

  • For data and analysis on Colombia, visit CPJ’s Colombia page.