RSF expressed its great concern today about the murder, reportedly by paramilitary forces, of a radio station employee in Colombia and called on the country’s president, Andrés Pastrana, to urgently investigate the incident. RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard, in a letter to Pastrana in the wake of what he called "this cowardly murder," renewed his appeal for the government to strengthen its programme for the protection of journalists and noted that the victim’s journalist father had since received death threats.
RSF learns that the journalist, Juan Carlos Gómez, of the radio station La Voz de Aguachica, in the northeastern province of César, was kidnapped on 1 April by a group of armed men from the home of a friend, Oscar Guerrero, who was also kidnapped. Two days later, the disembowelled corpse of Gómez was found floating in the Magdalena river, near the village of Puerto Mosquito. He had been tortured and his hands were tied together. The body of 18-year-old Guerrero was found on 5 April.
The murders were attributed to the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) but the reason for them remained unclear. The Inter-American Press Association said the kidnappers had wanted to take Guerrero and Gómez had been seized as well because he tried to stop them. Others suggested Gómez was killed because he had read on the air a message of condolences from Horacio Serpa, the Liberal Party candidate in the 26 May presidential elections, on the death of a local party figure. The daily El Tiempo reported on 6 April that paramilitaries in Aguachica had threatened to kill anyone who campaigned for candidates other than the independent Alvaro Uribe, who is currently ahead in public opinion polls.
However, La Voz de Aguachica’s news editor, Fredy Alfonso Carvajalino, told RSF that Gómez was a technician at the station and had not broadcast anything. He had worked on a daily music and news programme called "Noches Romanticas" which went out between 8 and 10 pm. He had been hired six weeks earlier at the recommendation of his father, Luis Alejandro Gómez, who has been a journalist with the station for nearly 30 years and has received death threats for having suggested the AUC was involved in the death of his son. The radio is part of the national network of the RCN media group.
RSF and the Peruvian Press and Society Institute (IPYS) said in a report last November that press freedom in Colombia was mainly threatened by the fighting between the AUC and the guerrilla forces of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). About 40 journalists have been killed in the country over the last decade.
However, RSF strongly cautions against linking the murder of journalists in Colombia with their work. Of the 13 journalists killed there last year, four had not worked as journalists for several months previously and RSF considers that only three were probably murdered because of their work. The six other cases are still being investigated. With an average of four journalists killed every year, Colombia is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.
The leaders of the three armed groups fighting in Colombia - Carlos Castaño (AUC), Manuel Marulanda (FARC) and Nicolas Rodríguez Bautista (ELN) - are among the 37 people on RSF’s worldwide list of "predators of press freedom."