New York, August 1, 2016–Colombian authorities should swiftly and credibly investigate threats against documentary filmmaker and activist Bladimir Sánchez Espitia and should ensure his safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Sánchez told CPJ a man with a gun came looking for him in the early hours of July 30.
The man came to a building that Sánchez often visits in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogotá at 2:30 a.m., Sánchez told CPJ. The journalist, who was not there at the time, told CPJ that multiple witnesses, including the building’s security guard, told him the man had a gun and asked for him by name. The visit was the latest in a series of threats dating back to at least 2012, according to CPJ research.
“Colombian authorities should fully investigate the threat to Bladimir Sánchez Espitia’s life, and ensure there are effective measures in place to protect him,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Colombian journalists should be able to report on sensitive issues without fear of death.”
Sánchez, a documentary filmmaker who covers human rights, has received escalating threats for at least five years. He told CPJ he believes the threats could be tied to mining companies that he investigates in his documentary work, local police, or political figures that may have interests in those companies or their development projects.
The filmmaker first fled his home in the central Colombian region of Huila, roughly 370 kilometers (230 miles) south of Bogotá, in 2012 after he received death threats related to a video he posted on YouTube. The video showed antiriot police forcibly removing protesters from the construction site of a hydroelectric dam in Huila. After posting the video, Sánchez received phone calls from several unidentified callers, according to the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP). Sánchez told CPJ at the time that he believed police officers in Huila were responsible for the call. CPJ’s calls to Colombia’s Attorney General Office today were not immediately answered.
On April 15, 2016, unidentified individuals broke into Sánchez’s apartment in Bogotá and stole a computer, video camera, a storage disk, and other hardware, FLIP reported. Sánchez told FLIP that the stolen equipment contained material alleging that mining companies participated in human rights violations, which he planned to use in future documentary films. The thieves did not take any other valuable items, the filmmaker told FLIP. Sánchez and the legal support organization the José Alvear Restepo Lawyers Collective requested that the Attorney General’s office conduct a full investigation into the burglary, but Sánchez, who returned to Hulia not long after, told CPJ he is not aware of any progress in the case.
Sánchez fled Huila again in late May 2017, after his family was threatened, and again relocated to Bogotá, where he told CPJ he believed his family would be safer. Sánchez told CPJ that at the time he was working as co-director and executive producer of a documentary for the Discovery Channel about the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group.
Since 1992, at least 47 journalists have been killed in Colombia in direct relation to their work, many as the result of the conflict between the state and armed guerilla groups. While security for journalists in Colombia has improved in recent years, threats and violence against journalists continue, often with impunity, according to CPJ research.