Reporters Without Borders has condemned threats made against three Colombian journalists in the form of fake parcels bombs delivered to their homes.
Gustavo Bell Lemus, editor of the daily EL Heraldo de Barranquilla, Ernesto McCausland Sojo, columnist on the dailies El Heraldo and El Tiempo, and Armando Benedetti Jimeno, columnist for El Heraldo and news editor of Caracol Radio all received fake parcels bombs in turn between 3 and 5 June 2006.
Each parcel was made up of three boxes in which there were several wires and a watch. Each also contained a warning to the journalists ‘not to get mixed up in things that did not concern them, or the next time the bomb would explode’.
The Colombian government on 6 June offered a reward of 40,000 dollars for any information leading to the unmasking and discovery of those behind the threats.
President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who was re-elected on 28 May, said in a statement that “these threats, like all those which damage press freedom, cannot go unpunished.”
Reporters Without Borders said it welcomed such statements but added, “We hope however that the steps that are to be taken in this case should be put into effect more systematically. The Colombian authorities must wake up to the climate of terror and impunity in which journalists are living, especially in the provinces.”
El Heraldo has recently taken a critical line about corruption, criminality and the administration in Barranquilla. In his column on 17 March 2006, Armando Benedetti Jimeno had said that he believed that 50% of those elected to Congress for the Atlántico department had bought their votes.
In an interview with El Tiempo, on 7 June 2006, Benedetti said that the link between the threats and the opinion pieces written by the three journalists was obvious. They had never been the target of threats previously.
President Álvaro Uribe Vélez has put the head of the judicial police (Dijin), General Oscar Naranjo, in charge of the investigation. According to General Parra of the Atlántico police, the national police chief, General Jorge Daniel Castro, planned to deploy special units to investigate the case and take necessary preventative measures.
Finally, Senén González of the Security administrative department (DAS) told national and local media that the protection of journalists would be stepped up.