Police officers in Medellín, Colombia check whether people are allowed to be outside during a coronavirus lockdown on June 17, 2020. Three photographers were arrested and fined for violating a lockdown while covering a protest. (AFP/Joaquin Sarmiento)

Three photographers arrested while covering protests in Medellín, Colombia

On June 15, 2020, police assaulted, arrested, and detained overnight photographers Harrison Agudelo, Juan Carlos Londoño, and Juan Pablo Herrera, according to Londoño who spoke to CPJ via phone and the Bogotá-based group Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP). The incident happened as the three were covering an anti-government protest in the western Colombian city of Medellín, FLIP said in a statement.

Agudelo, 22, Londoño, 18, and Herrera, 18, are members of the journalist collectives Periferia Prensa, AquiNoticias, and Ab_zurdo, and also post photographs on the social justice-themed Instagram account ab zurdo, according to FLIP’s statement and Londoño.

While arresting dozens of protesters for allegedly defacing buildings with graffiti, the police also detained the three photographers even though they told the officers they were journalists, Londoño told CPJ. He said that he and the other two journalists were wearing press credentials but that they lost them during the scuffle with the police, and that they were rounded up with the other protesters.

Londoño said that during the arrests an officer dragged him by his hair and threw him to the ground and that another officer hit Agudelo with his nightstick. He said that Herrera also faced rough treatment by the police but did not provide details. Londoño described the police as being “totally out of control.” Several journalists who were also detained in the protest were released shortly after, according to FLIP.

Londoño said the three journalists were taken to a branch of the federal Attorney General’s office in Medellín where they were held overnight and told they could face criminal charges for vandalism.  He said they were released the next day without charges but ticketed 932,320 pesos (US$255) each for violating Medellín’s coronavirus lockdown even though journalists are exempt from the regulations, according to the government decree.

On Twitter, Medellín Mayor Daniel Quintero said the actions of the police would be investigated to determine “if they used excessive force” in general at the protest. Reached by CPJ, Gen. Eliecer Camacho, chief of police for Medellín and the surrounding area, confirmed that city officials are currently investigating the incident regarding Agudelo, Londoño, and Herrera. He did not comment on Londoño’s accusation of harsh treatment by police, and disputed the journalists’ claim that they identified themselves as press.