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Colombia5 October 2004

Threats against Semana journalists, phones tapped

Reporters Without Borders today called for a thorough investigation into allegations made by the Bogota-based news magazine Semana yesterday that its phone calls were tapped and threats were made against several of its journalists in the past week by right-wing paramilitaries or drug traffickers.

"We are very worried about the safety of these journalists and their ability to work freely, given that the confidentiality of their telephone calls is not being respected," the organisation said in a letter to state prosecutor Luis Camilo Osorio, noting: "If the confidentiality of sources is not guaranteed, there can be no investigative journalism."

Calling on the state prosecutor to conduct an enquiry and publish the findings, Reporters Without Borders added: "There must be a thorough investigation as state agencies could be involved."

In an editorial published in yesterday’s issue, Semana said several calls were illegally intercepted and threats were made against some of its journalists who it did not want to identify for safety reasons. The editorial said it was not known whether the threats came from paramilitaries or drug traffickers.

In its previous issue (27 September), Semana published passages from the transcript of a confidential conversation between High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo and several leaders of the paramilitary United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia (AUC) in which Restrepo implied that President Uribe could prevent their extradition to the United States (where they are wanted for drug trafficking) if their followers demobilized.

He also mentioned the possibility of a law being passed that would prevent their being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

The same issue also included an investigative report about the infiltration of far-right paramilitary groups by drug traffickers. The government opened talks with the main paramilitary groups on 1 July with the aim of getting them to demobilize by the end of next year.

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