About 7:10 p.m. on October 16, 2022, in the northern town of Montelíbano, two men aboard a motorcycle fatally shot Rafael Emiro Moreno Garavito 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.
Murillo said the UNP provided protection for Moreno for the past six years and that the journalist had 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.
After Moreno’s death, a FLIP investigation found that the journalist was only intermittently protected over years of threats and that the UNP failed to reevaluate his protection scheme in a timely manner following new threats. FLIP showed the UNP assigned Moreno a comprehensive protection scheme, including a vehicle and two bodyguards, after he reported death threats in 2019. In September 2020, the agency reduced some protective measures, including the vehicle and one bodyguard, and in September 2021 the UNP removed the other bodyguard for three months before restoring the protective measures. During this time, Moreno continued receiving multiple death threats every year, which he reported to authorities.
FLIP’s Bock said that it was the first time that a Colombian journalist under government protection had been killed.