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Colombia23 January 2006

Editor closes down newspaper and flees after receiving death threats

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the fate of Diro César Gonzáles, the owner and editor of the weekly La Tarde in Barrancabermeja (in the northeastern department of Santander), who has suspended publication of his newspaper and has been forced to flee the region after receiving death threats, probably from right-wing paramilitaries.

“Like Gonzáles, eight other Colombian journalists were last year forced to stop working and flee their home region, or the country,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is becoming impossible for journalists to work in Colombia’s war zones.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We are especially worried to learn that a blacklist put out by the paramilitaries, with the names of Gonzáles and other department of Santander journalists, has been circulating since the end of last year, and we again urge the Colombian authorities to pursue their attempts to demobilise the armed groups.”

Two men on a motor-cycle went to the Gonzáles family home on 17 January and asked to speak with Gonzáles. His wife, Tatiana Sánchez, who also works at the newspaper, told them he was not there. After muttering something incomprehensible, they left.

Sánchez noticed that one of the men was armed and she recognised the other as someone who had been accused of involvement in the murder of his wife in a local discotheque on 23 December. The latest issue of La Tarde had details of the murder along with photos of the suspects, who had been arrested.

Gonzáles has received threats in the past and has never been too concerned, even when his name and those of two other local journalists appeared late last year on a blacklist that is reportedly still circulating in the department.

But then, at the end of December, two men on a motor-cycle were repeatedly seen driving around the neighbourhood where La Tarde is located and they went to Gonzáles’ home where they told his wife that the order had gone out for her husband to be killed.

Threats have also been made recently against other journalists in the department of Santander, including Alvaro Pérez Vides, the managing director of the TV station Telepetroleo, who was also forced to leave Barrancabermeja.

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