Soldiers patrol a street in Cali, Colombia, on July 17, 2020. Soldiers recently shot at journalist Fernando Osorio while he was working in Vista Hermosa. (AFP/Luis Robayo)

Soldiers shoot at journalist in Colombia, threaten reporters covering coca protests

Bogotá, August 17, 2020 – Colombian authorities must undertake a thorough and transparent investigation into violence against journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez, and ensure those responsible are brought to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On August 8, soldiers chased Osorio, a photographer for the local news cooperative Voces del Guayabero, which posts stories on Facebook, and fired their weapons at him while he was covering a protest by coca farmers against the military’s eradication of their crops near the southern town of Vista Hermosa, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and a report by the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

Osorio said that he and Álvarez, a reporter for Voces del Guayabero, found refuge in a farmer’s house. Soon afterwards, soldiers arrived at the house, insulted the two journalists, accused them of being left-wing guerrillas, and detained them at the house for about six hours before releasing them without charge.

“Colombian authorities should thoroughly investigate soldiers’ brazen attacks on journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez and ensure that all those responsible are held to account,” said CPJ Central and South Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “The fact that this is the second shooting attack by soldiers on Osorio highlights the disregard that some in the Army appear to have for journalists. Impunity in these attacks will only perpetuate violence against journalists.”

“They ran after me and shot at me indiscriminately,” Osorio told CPJ. Álvarez did not answer phone calls and voice messages from CPJ.

Osorio also told CPJ that on August 13, while he was covering another protest by coca farmers, soldiers insulted him, pointed their rifles at him, and made him briefly lie face-down on the side of a road.

Army officials claim rebels are pressuring farmers to protest the campaign to eradicate coca, a raw material used to make cocaine, according to news reports. Farmers have been protesting since May, and coverage by Voces del Guayabero has been picked up by other Colombian news outlets that have been unable to send correspondents due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Osorio said.

While covering a protest on June 4, Osorio said a soldier shot him, breaking his camera and severing his pinky finger and part of his ring finger. That attack was documented at the time by FLIP and news reports. Osorio told CPJ that the injury has made it much harder for him to work as a photographer.

CPJ called the Colombian military for comment; a representative referred CPJ to the Omega Task Force, which is in charge of the coca eradication operations. CPJ called that group but no one answered the phone.