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Colombia28 July 2006

Sixth journalist forced to flee since start of year

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today on learning that Marcos Perales Mendoza, the editor of La Portada, an investigative monthly based in Barrancabermeja (in the northern department of Santander), has been forced to flee the region by the death threats he has been getting since May 2005 in response to his articles about local corruption.

He finally decided to leave after getting a message on 22 July warning him that he would be the target of an attack in a month’s time. His present location is being kept secret for security reasons.

“Perales is the latest of a total of six journalists in Colombia who have had to flee the area where they work since the start of the year, and the situation is getting more and more critical for local media,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“The government and judicial authorities must react by quickly moving against politicians who think the mandate they got from their voters guarantees their impunity,” the organisation added. “The parties to Colombia’s civil war are not the only ones responsible for these threats and attacks on the news media.”

With a circulation of 5,000, La Portada has specialized in denouncing local government corruption, sometimes naming the officials allegedly involved. Last month, Perales exposed irregularities in the assignment of a public works contract for the building of an aqueduct in Barrancabermeja. As result, the local prosecutor’s office ordered the municipal authorities to cancel the contract.

On 22 July, Perales received a e-mail offer of flowers for his funeral. The message said Barrancabermeja’s mayor, Edgar Cote, would complete his term and added that Perales would not be around to know who the next mayor was.

Perales said he has been the target of intimidation each time he has published an article on a sensitive issue since May 2005. The first time he received a bag containing the photos of three bodies and a message put together with letters cut from newspapers that said: “Leave the mayor alone or you will end up like this.”

He filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office at the time but is not aware of any progress being made in the investigation. He has received three other e-mail threats since the start of this year. His family has also been the target of intimidation and intruders broke into his home, making it look like a burglary.

Journalists based in Barrancabermeja told Reporters Without Borders that Cote is a controversial mayor with many enemies within the municipal council. His supporters recently disrupted a news conference organised by a number of municipal councillors, breaking down the doors and putting Xs on the faces of some the councillors in a photo.

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