Bogotá, Colombia, June 20, 2017–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called for the immediate release of two Dutch journalists who were abducted while reporting from a lawless region of northeastern Colombia.
Derk Johannes Bolt, 62, and Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender, 58, were abducted yesterday, according to a statement from Colombian police circulated among journalists on Whatsapp. The office of the Colombia Human Rights Ombudsman confirmed the abductions on its Twitter account, but said the two were detained on June 17.
“We call on those holding journalists Derk Johannes Bolt and Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender to release them immediately,” Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s program director and senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from New York. “Colombian authorities should do their utmost to locate the journalists and bring them to safety, and all sides in the Colombian civil conflict must respect the internationally recognized status of journalists as civilians.”
The police statement and a report from the Colombian weekly Semana attributed the kidnapping to the National Liberation Army, or ELN, a Marxist rebel group involved in a more than 50 year conflict with the Colombian state.
The kidnappings took place near the village of El Tarra in Norte de Santander state, which lies along the border with Venezuela and is home to the ELN, which is estimated to have about 1,500 fighters. The area is also home to drug-trafficking groups, according to the police statement.
The Colombian organization Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP, by its Spanish acronym) wrote on Twitter that there were reports that the ELN could be behind the kidnapping, but cautioned that the information had not been confirmed.
On one of its official Twitter accounts, the ELN said it was “investigating to help clear up the case,” according to news reports. When the BBC asked an ELN spokesman about the kidnappings he responded: “There is nothing to say.”
Broadcast journalist Bolt and camera operator Follender work for the Dutch TV program “Spoorloos,” which traces the whereabouts of relatives. They were in the region attempting to track down the biological mother of a Colombian child adopted in The Netherlands, according to news reports.
Police said a unit specialized in abductions has been dispatched to the region. In a statement, the Colombian army also said that it had sent soldiers to the area to search for the two journalists.
Last year, ELN rebels in Norte de Santander abducted Spanish-Colombian journalist Salud Hernandez-Mora as well as two Colombian reporters. They were freed unharmed after about a week in captivity.
Colombia’s larger rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, signed a peace treaty last year to end its 52-year insurgency, and is currently disarming its 7,000 fighters. Peace talks with the ELN, which were launched in February, have since stalled, according to news reports.