A man sitting before a colorful mural.
Edward Álvarez, a reporter for La Chiva de Urabá, said he received a death threat via WhatsApp on May 12 in Apartadó, Colombia. (Photo: courtesy of Edward Álvarez)

Colombian journalist flees after death threat after report on extortion claims

Bogotá, May 21, 2024—Colombian authorities must thoroughly investigate the death threat received by journalist Edward Álvarez, ensure his safety, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

Álvarez, a reporter for the independent online news outlet La Chiva de Urabá in the northern city of Apartadó, received a death threat via WhatsApp on May 12, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ.

The sender identified themselves as “Commander Lucas” of the powerful drug-trafficking group The Gaitanista Self Defense Forces of Colombia — called the Gulf Clan by Colombia’s government — and declared Álvarez a “military objective” for publishing a story about one of the group’s imprisoned members, according to CPJ’s review of the message. “Commander Lucas” warned that if Álvarez continued reporting, his family would also be at risk.

On May 10,  La Chiva de Urabá published Álvarez’s video interview with an Apartadó woman in which she alleged that her jailed former partner was trying to extort her by spreading intimate photos of her on social media.

“Colombian authorities must immediately investigate the death threat received by journalist Edward Álvarez and ensure he can return to Apartadó and continue his reporting safely,” said Cristina Zahar, CPJ’s Latin American program coordinator, in São Paulo. “True democracies must guarantee press freedom for all citizens.”

Álvarez told CPJ that he reported the threat to the local police and the Attorney General’s office on May 13 and then fled Apartadó. “I am very scared,” he told CPJ, adding that he did not know when he would return .

The Gaitanista Self Defense Forces of Colombia denied that any of its members threatened Álvarez in a May 12 statement, reviewed by CPJ, and said they were being impersonated, according to those news reports.

The Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) documented four incidents of journalists who received threats from the drug-trafficking group.

CPJ’s text messages to the press office of the Attorney General’s office in Bogotá did not receive an immediate reply. Major Miguel Gutierrez, chief of the investigative police in the Urabá region that includes Apartadó, told CPJ that his agents are investigating and do not yet know who threatened Álvarez.