Coronell's name didn't come up in a hearing this week on Capitol Hill, even
though CPJ had just learned that a Colombian court had ordered the arrest of the
respected Canal Uno TV reporter and Semana magazine columnist over his work.
Coronell is one of many journalists and human rights monitors
who've lately been forced to defend themselves against irregular, if not bogus, criminal charges brought in Colombian courts. The hearing held by
Lantos Human Rights Commission of the House Foreign Affairs Committee did,
however, hear important testimony from one of Coronell's colleagues.
Morris, another respected TV journalist (his program CONTRAVÍA roughly translates as "The Other
Way"), told Commission Co-Chairman Rep.
Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) as well as Rep.
Joseph R. Pitts (R-Penn.) that he recently learned that Colombian prosecutors
were preparing criminal charges against him. By then Andrew
Hudson of Human Rights
First had already told the bipartisan commission that Colombian prosecutors
had recently brought no less than 32
unfounded and "specious" criminal investigations against Colombians, including journalists as well as human rights investigators.
accused of purported offenses by Colombian officials as high-ranking as the
nation's head of state. Last month CPJ
and Human Rights Watch wrote a joint letter to President Álvaro Uribe over the
president's latest accusation that Morris was an alleged "accomplice of
terrorism." (Three weeks later, CPJ reported that
intelligence service was spying on journalists, Supreme Court judges,
opposition politicians, and officials in Uribe's administration.) Uribe was
hardly alone. Vice
President Francisco Santos (himself a former journalist who was once
kidnapped by FARC Marxist
guerrillas, and whose family runs Bogotá's largest daily, El Tiempo) and his cousin, Defense Minister Juan
Manuel Santos, have also accused Morris of having guerrilla ties.
These latest accusations against the CONTRAVÍA journalist came after Morris briefly interviewed four hostages--three police officers and one soldier--shortly before they were released by the FARC. But Morris told CPJ that he cut short the interviews once he realized that the hostages had been coerced by the FARC into giving scripted answers. Morris also neither aired the footage nor published the hostage's testimonies. Nonetheless, Attorney General Mario Iguarán announced the opening of a criminal investigation of Morris for alleged terrorist ties.
"The recent barrage of accusations that you and senior
members of your administration have launched against Morris undermines your
commitment to freedom of expression," HRW
and CPJ jointly wrote to President Uribe on February 5. "Official comments
linking journalists to any actor in
The stories that may have really upset Uribe and other senior Colombian officials are Morris' investigative reports into politically motivated violence, including assassinations by both rightist paramilitary groups and leftist guerrillas in communities such as San José de Apartado. Morris' reports have included evidence--also reported by HRW and others--that rightist paramilitaries responsible for much of the violence have been secretly backed by the Colombian military. In 2007, HRW gave Morris is its prestigious Human Rights Defender Award for his ground-breaking reporting.
Morris's situation is not unique. Journalist Ignacio "Nacho" Gómez went into
exile twice, years before Uribe took office, each time after uncovering
evidence of ties between illegal rightist paramilitaries and the U.S.-backed
Colombian military. Gómez spent a year in exile as a Nieman Fellow at
Harvard University before returning to
Coronell went in exile with his family in 2005 after
receiving a series of threats, including two funeral wreaths predicting
his death. (That same year, CPJ documented widespread
Coronell returned to
Another witness before the Tom Lantos Human Rights
Commission was Liliana Andrea Avila of the
It's not unlike the situations facing the journalists Gómez, Morris and Coronell.
warrant issued this month against Coronell stemmed from a 2008 report that
alleged links between a local businessman and drug traffickers. The businessman
denied the allegation and filed an injunction seeking a correction. A criminal
judge in the eastern
"With all due respect to the court, we question the legality
of ordering a second correction," noted
CPJ's Carlos Lauría on Wednesday. "Holding Coronell in contempt without
adequate due process smacks of judicial harassment and sets a precedent that will
weaken judicial guarantees in
As Morris told Congress, the combination of threats, accusations and trumped-up criminal charges have "serious repercussions."