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Eight journalists exiled
Claudia Gurisatti, presenter of the TV news programme "La Noche" on RCN TV, left the country on 30 January 2001 after the chief state prosecutor, Alfonso Gómez Méndez, told her the FARC planned to kill her (which the FARC denied). In her programme, she had interviewed the main parties to the conflict, including AUC leader Carlos Castaño and FARC spokesman Raúl Reyes. An investigation Gurisatti made after returning to Colombia on 26 June suggested that the murder plot was invented by the prosecutor, who had disliked an interview by her with Álvaro Leyva Durán, an alleged associate of President Andrés Pastrana who fled to Costa Rica after being accused by the prosecutor of taking money from drug-smugglers. In the interview, Levya Durán had made what Gómez Méndez considered defamatory accusations of the public prosecutor’s office.
Freelance journalist Orlando Llano Salazar left the country on 9 May after receiving threats since September 2000. While putting together a series of educational TV programmes, he had gathered the stories of families who were victims of clashes between FARC guerrillas and paramilitary groups in the northwestern region of Urabá. A colleague of Llano Salazar said the threats may have come from paramilitaries who had tried to get him to work for them. From 1997 to 1999, he had produced a programme called "Urabá 2003," broadcast by the station Teleantioquia, in which local inhabitants spoke out.
Arturo Prado Lima, presenter of the TV news programmes "Hora Cero" on Canal A and "90 Minutos" on Telepacífico, left the country on 18 June. His vehicle had been stopped on 1 May 2000 in Nariño province by members of the AUC as he was on his way to cover for "Hora Cero" the release of a trade unionist kidnapped by FARC guerrillas. The paramilitaries burned his vehicle and the video equipment in it. Since then, he had been threatened, subjected to intimidation and twice had tapes stolen from him by strangers. The second of these thefts was from the apartment of a colleague, "90 Minutos" cameraman John Saul Narváez, apparently by members of the army.
Omar García, of La Voz de la Selva radio station in Florencia (750 km southwest of Bogotá), left the country on 23 August. He had been wounded in the 6 July attack that killed his colleague José Duviel Vásquez and had received several death threats in the street and by phone while taking part in the enquiry into the murder. He was then accepted by the government scheme to protect journalists and moved to Bogotá, but was not entirely safe there and so fled abroad.
Carlos Enrique Aristizábal and Guillermo Aguilar Moreno, former journalists with the radio station Armony Records, in Cali, left the country in August. In July 1999, during the ELN kidnapping of 180 worshippers in a church in Cali, they had put together a broadcast so relatives of the hostages to pass messages to them. Since then, the journalists said they had received threats that forced them to leave the radio station and change their addresses four times. On 11 April, an apparent ELN communiqué designated them "military targets," called them "government informers and collaborators" and ordered them to stop working as journalists. A police enquiry, at the request of the government scheme to protect journalists, had reported a few weeks earlier that their lives were in danger.
Journalist Jairo Fernando Valencia left Colombia with his family on 26 September after living in the capital since January under government protection. He worked for the radio station Mirador Estereo, in the western town of Chinchiná, and for the daily newspapers El Ejemplar, El Vocero and La Pátria, as well as for Canal G Televisión. He had been threatened several times by police, the army and paramilitaries in the town after denouncing lawlessness in the region and abuses by the security forces.
Oscar Torres, editor in chief of the daily Diario del Sur, in Pasto (Nariño province), left the country on 30 November, three weeks after he and three other local journalists had been accused by local AUC forces of "dishonest reporting" and given 48 hours to stop working or else face "judgement."
Six journalists attacked
Carlos Lajud, of City TV, and one of the station’s cameramen were slightly injured when a bomb went off in front of the national university in Bogotá on 25 May 2001 while they were covering an earlier bomb explosion there. Four people were killed and about 20 wounded in the blasts.
Police attacked Wilfredo Pinto, a cameraman with RCN TV, as well as Javier Mauricio Santoyo (journalist) and Oscar Pereira (a cameraman) of Caracol Televisión, while they were filming the arrest in Bucaramanga (Santander province) on 8 June of a student demonstrator. Pereira was hit in the face and his camera destroyed.
Héctor Molina, a reporter with Telepacífico’s "Noti 5" TV news programme, and Julio César Romero, a photographer from the daily El Caleño, were attacked in Cali while covering a student demonstration on 15 November. Romero received head injuries and his equipment was destroyed as he was taking pictures of demonstrators. When Molina went to help him, he too was beaten.
Nineteen journalists threatened
A communiqué attributed to the AUC sent on 19 February 2001 to Radio Super and a local TV station, Pentavisión, in the western province of Cauca warned six journalists they would be killed for being enemies of peace and supporting guerrilla forces. They were Freddy Calvache, correspondent in Cali of Caracol Televisión, Carlos Enrique Levaza and Jhon Jairo Uribe, of the news programme "Supernoticias del Cauca" on the TV station Cadena Super, Truman Uribe Cerón, correspondent of Radio Suceso, Guillermo Salamanca, editor of the "NC Noticias" news programme on Pentavisión, and Adolfo León Mejía, correspondent of the news programme on RCN TV.
Between 17 and 20 May, editorial staff at the daily paper El Tiempo got three phone calls threatening national desk reporters Sergio Ocampo and Carlos Pulgarín, Marta Soto, head of the investigations desk, and Orlando Gamboa, editor in chief of the paper’s regional edition in the northern city of Barranquilla. The anonymous callers said the journalists had been declared "military targets" and gave them a month to leave the country. The source of the threats was not known and the four journalists were not working together. After an investigation, the paper decided the threats were not serious. However, Pulgarin left Colombia a few weeks later. In December 1999, he had been forced to go into exile after getting threats and at one point being kidnapped.
Five journalists in Cali (southwest of Bogota) were declared "military targets" on 29 May in a communiqué signed by a local AUC group, the "Farallones Front." They were Eduardo Manzano, a reporter with the TV station Telepacífico’s news programme "Notipacífico" and a contributor to RCN TV, Jaime Gallego and Hugo Palomar (correspondents) and Eduardo Esquivel (cameraman) in Cali for Caracol Televisión, and Gildardo Arango, of Telepacífico’s "Noti 5" news programme. The communiqué said the Front had found that in the local province of Valle "media and journalists are working for the guerrillas." The leaders of the AUC group disowned the communiqué when contacted by the heads of the media involved a few days later.
An AUC communiqué in Nariño province on 9 November accused Germán Arcos, a cameraman for Caracol Televisón, Oscar Torres, editor in chief of Diario del Sur, Cristina Castro, correspondent for the radio station RCN, and Alfonso Pardo, correspondent of the Communist Party weekly Voz, which was involved in the peace process, of "dishonestly covering" the news. The AUC gave the journalists 48 hours to stop work as or face "judgement." The next day, they left Nariño for the capital under police escort.
Pressure and obstruction
Juan Carlos Giraldo, of RCN TV’s news programme, was barred from entering Bogotá’s La Picota prison on 4 April 2001 despite having a permit issued by the chief state prosecutor saying he could talk to a prisoner. After being attacked and insulted by a prison guard, he was ordered off the premises by the prison governor who he had asked to see.
RCN-TV reported on 11 April that the government had asked it the previous day not to broadcast an interview with AUC paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño in which he talked about an alleged AUC attempt to kidnap the government representative at the peace negotiations, Camilo Gómez. The government said this would jeopardise the talks. The station at first agreed to withhold the interview but then decided to screen it on 11 April. In October 2000, Caracol Televisión agreed, at the request of the National Television Commission (CNTV), the public body that monitors TV content, not to broadcast a report by journalist Jorge Enrique Botero about policemen and soldiers being held by the FARC. Some have questioned how independent CNTV is of the government.
Two grenades were thrown at the offices of the weekly El Otro in Pasto (Nariño province) on 19 April, destroying some of its equipment. The paper’s boss, Ricardo Romero, said neither he nor the editorial staff had received any threats. He said the attack was probably because of criticism published by the paper. Romero, a former member of the M19 (19 April Movement) guerrilla group, and four of his journalists were soon afterwards forced to go into hiding. Two local journalists said the attack was part of a systematic policy by armed groups to gag the independent media and local correspondents of the Bogotá and Cali media.
Police defused a 250 kg TNT bomb hidden among crates of fruit in the back of a pick-up truck parked in front of the Bogotá offices of the Communist Party weekly Voz on 21 May. Bogotá police chief Gen. Jorge Linares said the bomb was powerful enough to destroy two city blocks. Voz director Carlos Lozano Guillén blamed paramilitaries for the bomb and said it was linked to his recent appointment to a committee to draw up recommendations to the government and FARC guerrillas on how to combat the paramilitaries and reduce the intensity of the fighting. Four days later, AUC chief Carlos Castaño claimed responsibility for the bomb attempt.
Gustavo Gallo Machado (a reporter) and Donaldo de Jesús Zuluaga (a photographer) of the Medellín daily El Colombiano and their driver, Ramón Morales, were stopped by presumed members of FARC on the road to San Francisco (Antioquia province) on 23 May. The guerrillas stole their vehicle and all the copies of the paper they had with them.
A virus destroyed the computer hard drive of the webmaster of the press freedom organisation Prensa Libre on 8 June, knocking out its website a few hours after the group had published a statement that two journalists had been wounded in a FARC attack on 26 May. Prensa Libre then received several messages accusing it of being a "mouthpiece of the army." The organisation was founded in 1998 to publicise attacks on press freedom in Colombia from whatever source.
The offices of Caracol Radio in Medellín were badly damaged on 23 August when 20 kg of dynamite dumped behind the building by strangers exploded, injuring 43 people, six of them seriously. About 20 nearby buildings were also damaged. A city official said police had no idea who was responsible or what the motive was. Nine bombs exploded in other parts of the city the same day and were blamed on the ELN guerrillas with whom the government had broken off negotiations a fortnight earlier.
Eight members of FARC stopped a group of journalists on 28 September 150 km south of Bogotá on the road towards the demilitarised zone (handed over to FARC by the government), forbade them to film anything and said they were being held for their own safety. The journalists were Víctor Tobar and Hélver Viarraga, of Reuters news agency, Ángel González and Nervei Poloche, of Caracol Televisión, César Velendia and Edinson Bautista, of RCN TV, and Erica Manchola, from the news programme "TV Hoy." The journalists had been on their way to cover the visit to San Vicente del Caguan, the main town of the demilitarised zone, of Liberal Party presidential candidate Horacio Serpa. They were freed after spending the night at a rebel post.
The FARC accused the daily El Tiempo and the RCN and Caracol media groups of being "enemies of the peace process" in a statement on 18 October, saying they had criticised FARC’s role in the negotiations instead of looking at the root causes of the fighting.
Three journalists working in San Vicente del Caguan, the main town of the FARC demilitarised zone, were prevented by paramilitary groups from driving to Bogotá on 23 October to meet representatives of Reporters Without Borders and the Peruvian Instituto Prensa y Sociedad. They were Maria Luisa Murillo, correspondent of El Tiempo, Luis Alfonso Altamar Gaitán, who works for several media and runs his own TV station, and Efraín Jiménez, correspondent for RCN Radio and a journalist with the community radio Ecos del Caguan. The group, who were from Caqueta province and had covered the peace negotiations from the beginning, had wanted to express their fears about AUC paramilitary forces occupying some of the demilitarised zone now that the zone’s existence was being challenged. The AUC reportedly considered them "mouthpieces of the guerrillas."
The National Television Commission (CNTV) public watchdog body proposed new rules on 23 October under which TV stations would not be allowed to broadcast "interviews, statements or communiqués by members, spokespersons or representatives of armed groups or criminal organisations." They could broadcast the information but would not be able to show the faces of the people involved, CNTV president Sergio Quiroz said. The proposal would also ban broadcasting pictures that "violated human rights" and forbid "close-ups of violent acts" so as to "preserve the victims’ fundamental right to privacy and dignity." The daily El Tiempo speculated that the proposal was part of a government package to prepare people for the end of the peace process. While the government challenges the status of the FARC as party to the negotiations, the armed groups would be deprived of publicity on TV. Shortly after the proposal was made, it was criticised by the national ombudsman, Eduardo Cifuentes, who said no Colombian institution had the right to curb freedom of the press.
Héctor Mario Rodríguez, of the online paper primerapagina.com, was expelled from the National Coffee Producers’ Federation conference on 5 December by security guards, who asked police to confiscate his notebook before arresting him. The primerapagina.com site had reported alleged abuses in the running of the federation. On 16 December, Cecilia de Cárdenas, head of a government enquiry in the federation’s management and one of Rodríguez’ sources, was murdered.
The leaders of the three armed groups are among those denounced by Reporters Without Borders as predators of press freedom.