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The Colombian congress building is seen in Bogota, Colombia, on December 18, 2018. Several lawmakers recently harassed a New York Times journalist and a local press freedom organization online, prompting the journalist to leave the country. (Reuters/Luisa Gonzalez)

New York Times journalist Casey leaves Colombia after online harassment by lawmakers

May 20, 2019 7:49 PM ET

Miami, May 20, 2019-- The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Colombian lawmakers to cease their harassment of New York Times Andes Bureau Chief Nicholas Casey and local press freedom organization, Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), and to ensure that journalists can report safely in the country.

On May 18, Senator María Fernanda Cabal, of the Democratic Center party, posted a tweet along with a photo of Casey, accusing the journalist of being "on tour" with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) paramilitary guerrilla group and of being paid to write "against the Colombian army." The tweet included the hashtag "#CaseyEsFakeNews." Cabal's tweet was followed by additional tweets by Democratic Center politicians, including Juán David Vélez, that accused the journalist of associating with FARC and writing "columns full of slander."

When FLIP tweeted in support of Casey, Álvaro Uribe, former Colombian president and now a senator, responded by tagging the foundation in a tweet that claimed that the organization was "defending the bias of 'journalists'" and was ultimately going to result in the "protection of narco terrorism and defamation against the Armed Forces of Colombia."

The online harassment followed the May 18 publication of an article in which Casey reported that the head of Colombia's army had recently ordered troops to double the number of criminals and militants they kill.

"Lawmakers have the right to question any piece of reporting, but dangerous and irresponsible comments like those made against Nicholas Casey have the potential to endanger his security and discourage reporting on sensitive issues in Colombia," said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna, in New York. "In a dangerous environment such as the one faced by the press in Colombia, it is of the utmost importance that journalists and press freedom organizations like the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) not be attacked by lawmakers simply for doing their jobs."

In its May 19 tweet in support of Casey, FLIP said that the lawmakers had made "unfair accusations" that "could be understood as instigation or support for aggressions against the press."

Casey told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo yesterday that he has left the country following the "false accusations" published by lawmakers on Twitter. The journalist added that such accusations are serious due to the lack of security and safety in Colombia for journalists.

Senator Cabal's tweet has been retweeted more than 3,000 times, and dozens of tweets with the #CaseyEsFakeNews hashtag have been posted since May 18, according to CPJ's review of posts on the social media network.

The New York Times directed CPJ to its response to Cabal on Twitter in which the paper said that it does not take sides in political conflict in any part of the world, and that it reports impartially. A translation of the tweet added, "In Colombia we have written very tough the stories about the FARC, rebel groups and other criminal organizations. In this case, we simply reported what the documents written by the army say, as well as information coming from the same Colombian officers."

In response to a request for comment, Senator Vélez directed CPJ to a statement on his website that read, in part, "As a congressman, and a citizen, I have continuously defended the Colombian Institutions and Armed Forces. In spite of the constant slanderous columns from some who, shielded by the press, misinform and seek to obtain profit, with personal or political interests, even engaging in institutional destabilizing."

CPJ emailed Senators Cabal and Uribe for comment but did not immediately receive a response. Former President Uribe is currently engaged in a lawsuit against a journalist in the United States, as CPJ has reported.

[Editor's Note: The ninth paragraph has been updated with a comment from the New York Times.]

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