On August 19, 2022, police officers march in Bogotá, Colombia, during the ceremony of the new police director. On October 16, in the northern town of Montelíbano, Rafael Emiro Moreno, a Colombian journalist under government protection, was fatally shot. (Reuters/Luisa Gonzalez)

Rafael Emiro Moreno, Colombian journalist under government protection, killed in Córdoba

Bogotá, October 19, 2022—Colombian authorities must thoroughly investigate the killing of journalist Rafael Emiro Moreno, determine if he was targeted for his work, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

About 7:10 p.m. on Sunday, October 16, in the northern town of Montelíbano, two men aboard a motorcycle fatally shot Moreno while he was at the fast-food restaurant that he owned, according to news reports and Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

Moreno was the director of independent online news outlet Voces De Córdoba, which published local news reports on Facebook, and a well-known community leader who received years of threats for his reporting on political corruption and drug-trafficking groups, FLIP Executive Director Jonathan Bock told CPJ via WhatsApp. The Colombian newsmagazine Cambio said Moreno recently investigated illegal gold mining by a powerful drug-trafficking group known as the Gulf Clan.

The Colombian government’s National Protection Unit (UNP) had assigned a bodyguard to protect Moreno and gave him a protective vest and an early-warning panic button, Jhon Murillo, a UNP spokesman, told CPJ via WhatsApp. However, at about noon on the day he was killed, Moreno, who didn’t believe protection was necessary while working at his restaurant, told his bodyguard that he could take the rest of the day off, which he did, Murillo said.

“The brutal killing of Rafael Emiro Moreno clearly demonstrates the deadly risks for Colombia’s most threatened journalists,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “Colombian authorities must investigate Moreno’s killing to determine if it was related to his work, bring those responsible to justice, and urgently overhaul the country’s protection program to ensure that it keeps those under its care safe.”

Murillo said the UNP provided protection for Moreno for the past six years and that the journalist recently asked for a second escort and a vehicle since he was often left unprotected when his bodyguard ended his work shifts. But Murillo said UNP’s evaluation of Moreno’s security situation had not yet been completed at the time of his death.

Col. Jhon Fredy Suárez, the police chief of the northern Córdoba department, which includes Montelíbano, told Bogotá’s W Radio station that since 2019, Moreno had reported at least 20 death threats against him and that his department was investigating Moreno’s killing. Colombia’s attorney general’s office said it had assigned a special investigative unit that was taking “urgent action” to solve the crime and identify those responsible.

FLIP’s Bock said that it was the first time that a Colombian journalist under government protection had been killed.

On Friday, October 21, Moreno was scheduled to take part in a panel discussion in Bogotá, the capital, on the dangers facing regional journalists in Colombia, Jaime Abello, director of the Gabo Foundation, the nonprofit journalism foundation that organized the event, said.