RCN Radio reporter Katy Sánchez (left) and intern Alexandra Molina (right) were recently attacked by riot police while covering a protest. (Photos by Sánchez and Molina)

Colombian riot police beat 2 RCN Radio journalists documenting police violence

Bogotá, July 1, 2021 – Colombian authorities must conduct a full investigation into police officers’ use of force against journalists covering recent protests, and ensure that security forces allow the press to work safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 29, Colombian police officers assaulted Katy Sánchez, a reporter, and Alexandra Molina, an intern, both with the independent broadcaster RCN Radio, while they covered anti-government protests in the capital, Bogotá, according to news reports and both journalists, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Sánchez told CPJ that she and Molina were filming members of the anti-riot police unit, known as ESMAD, beating and kicking a youth during the demonstrations, when officers attacked them. In a video recorded by Molina, the two journalists can be heard urging police to stop beating the youth, and then officers are seen accosting the reporters.

Sánchez said one officer shoved her to the ground with his shield, kicked her in the back, and hit her with his nightstick, leaving her with a badly sprained left ankle and bloodied knees. Molina told CPJ that the same officer shoved her to the ground, but that she did not sustain serious injuries.

Sánchez was treated at a clinic but said she will be unable to work for about a week.

“The recent police assault of two RCN Radio journalists shows that Colombian security forces have utterly failed to heed ongoing calls to change their violent tactics and stop targeting reporters,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “After two months of demonstrations in Colombia, it is inexcusable that riot police continue to target members of the press who are simply working to keep their fellow citizens informed.”

Sánchez told CPJ, “We told them we were journalists and not to attack us, that we were just doing our jobs. But they didn’t care.”

Following the incident, Bogotá Police Commander Óscar Gómez said in a video shared on Twitter that three of the officers involved in the attacks on the journalists and on the boy had been fired.

“We reject this irregular behavior and extend our apologies to the journalists,” Gómez said. “We reject the excessive use of force.”

In response to that video, Bogotá Mayor Claudia López tweeted that the attack on the journalists was “unacceptable.”

Separately, on June 23, protesters broke the windows of RCN Radio’s Bogotá headquarters and spray-painted insults on its walls, according to news reports.

At the time, RCN Radio news director Yolanda Ruíz tweeted: “We reject violence just as we defend the right to protest peacefully.”

Colombian authorities have repeatedly attacked journalists covering demonstrations against a variety of proposals by President Iván Duque, according to the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), which tweeted on June 29 that it was investigating 240 attacks on members of the press amid the demonstrations, including 138 by police.

Contacted via messaging app, police spokesperson Wilson Baquero referred CPJ to Gómez’s video on Twitter.