Bogotá, Colombia, August 18, 2020 — Colombian authorities must swiftly and transparently investigate the killing of Indigenous radio journalist José Abelardo Liz, determine if members of the military were responsible, and bring his killers to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On August 13, Liz was shot and killed during a two-day military campaign to remove members of the Nasa Indigenous group from land near the western town of Corinto, according to news reports and Dora Muñoz, a spokesperson for the Nasa community, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. A second civilian was also killed in the campaign, and another was injured, according to those reports and Muñoz.
Liz, 34, was a member of the Nasa Indigenous group and hosted a daily news and culture program called El Sabor de la Tarde (Afternoon Flavor) on Nación Nasa, a community radio station in Corinto, according to Muñoz.
At the time he was killed, Liz was recording sound and video of an army campaign to remove Nasa people from land that they claim is their ancestral territory, but which the military claims is privately owned, according to reports. The Nasa people had been living on that land and growing crops on it for the last six years; the land is legally owned by a private sugar company, Muñoz said.
Muñoz said that soldiers “fired indiscriminately” at Nasa civilians, and shot Liz in the chest. She said the hospital in Corinto lacked the equipment to operate on Liz, and he died in an ambulance en route to another hospital in the nearby city of Cali.
In a video shared on social media on August 13, after news of Liz’s death circulated widely online, General Marco Vinicio Mayorga Niño, commander of the division whose troops were involved in the campaign, blamed the Nasa and left-wing guerrillas for the two deaths, but did not mention either victim by name.
“The killing of journalist José Abelardo Liz is a tragedy, and authorities must thoroughly investigate the circumstances of his death, and hold those responsible to account,” said CPJ Central and South Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “The Colombian military must stop trying to deflect the blame for Liz’s killing, and authorities need to commit to conducting a transparent investigation, particularly into allegations that he was shot and killed by soldiers.”
In a video of the confrontation posted on Twitter, gunfire can be heard as Nasa civilians scramble for cover.
In his video, Mayorga said that soldiers responded to an attack by “guerrillas,” but denied that the army had targeted civilians. Mayorga said the Nasa people had been illegally occupying private property and that, during the removal operation, several of them attacked and injured his soldiers.
He also claimed that left-wing guerrillas had infiltrated the Nasa group, fired on his soldiers, tried to kidnap troops, and stole army communications gear.
In an email to CPJ, Colombian Defense Ministry representative Oriana Garcés declined to comment on Liz’s death, and referred CPJ to a statement by General Mayorga restating his claims in his video.
CPJ messaged the Colombian Army press office for comment but did not receive any response.
Muñoz insisted to CPJ that the Nasa community members were unarmed. She also alleged that the military had blocked medical personnel from reaching Liz to provide him with aid after he was shot.
In a statement, the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) described the army’s use of force against the Nasa Indigenous people as “disproportionate” and said it “rejected” the military’s description of events. The statement also accused the military of obstructing a truck that was attempting to bring Liz to a hospital.