Reporters Without Borders today condemned the repeated threats made during the past month against Pedro Luis Mogollón, the editor of the El Universal daily in the northern city of Cartagena, and Jacqueline Rhenals, one of his political columnists. The organisation also voiced concern about Diva Vivian Jessurum of RCN television in Bogotá, who is on the point of fleeing the country because of death threats.
“Press freedom in Colombian is no longer just compromised in the zones of armed conflict,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Regardless of the protection they may be getting, the situation of journalists is deteriorating sharply in the few cities and regions that are supposedly ‘pacified.’ Jessurum’s departure would bring to eight the number of journalists who have been forced to stop working and flee their region or the entire country since the start of the year.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We call on the Fiscalía General de la Nación (attorney-general’s office), which is responsible for dealing with these cases, to conduct immediate inquiries that include political circles in the areas investigated, in order to put an end to this new climate of terror against the media.”
Mogollón and Rhenals have been receiving repeated telephone threats for a month because of El Universal’s coverage of the campaign for Cartagena’s mayoral election on 30 October. The threats were first made in an SMS (telephone text) message received by both journalists on 17 September.
Two subsequent messages, one to Mogollón on 3 October and the other to Rhenals on 10 October, referred to a report in El Universal about voter intentions, especially as regards former mayor Nicolas Curi, who was removed in 2000 because of alleged corruption.
According to the Peruvian press freedom organisation IPYS, the threats against Jessurum are linked to a book she has been writing for the past year about the embezzlement of US funding for Plan Colombia, (a drug eradication programme). The threats began on 21 April when she received a message that she would be killed if she did not shut up. The anonymous correspondent, who calls himself Angelito, has thereafter reiterated his threats every two weeks.
A small coffin containing an identical message was delivered to her mother’s home in the northern city of Barranquilla on 16 August. Two days before that, several individuals went to Jessurum’s apartment building and asked the concierge for her. After being told she was not there, they broke the windows of her apartment by throwing stones. Reporters Without Borders has been told she is very frightened and is on the point of seeking refuge in a neighbouring country for a couple of months.