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Colombia3 January 2007

FARC detainee retracts statement implicating detained Telesur correspondent

A former member of the FARC guerrilla group who is serving a 12-year prison sentence has retracted the statement he made implicating journalist Freddy Muñoz, who has been held since 19 November on charges of “rebellion and terrorism.” The prosecution witness finally said he did not know Muñoz.

The Colombia correspondent of the pan-Latin American TV network Telesur, Muñoz was arrested at Bogotá airport on his return from Caracas, where Telesur has its headquarters. The Colombian authorities accused him of taking part in a FARC bombing in 2002.

The charges were based on vague and questionable claims made by three former guerrilla fighters, one of whom has now retracted. At the same time, a forensic report has established that Muñoz’s scars were not caused by the mishandling of explosives.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for Muñoz’s release in view of the fact that the charges are not supported by any hard evidence.

12.12.06 - Telesur journalist Freddy Muñoz, charged with “rebellion and terrorism”, faces 6-15 years in prison

Journalist Freddy Muñoz of international Telesur TV was charged on 7 December 2006 with “rebellion and terrorism” and faces six to 15 years in prison. The prosecutor’s office in Baranquilla, northern Colombia where the journalist is being held, said the case would take eight months to come to court.

The Colombian authorities insist that the case against him has nothing to do with his work as a journalist, in particular his interview a year ago, with guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). They said Muñoz is accused of taking part in a FARC attack in 2002, in which no-one was injured, and which he has always denied.

Three former FARC combatants have provided evidence against Muñoz, but his lawyer, Tito Gaítan, told Reporters Without Borders that it was vague. One of them had said he knew someone called Jorge Eliecer alias “Freddy”, an African (Freddy Muñoz is mixed race). Another one only mentioned the nickname “Freddy” and said this man was a bomb disposal expert and had injuries caused by explosions. A medical check on the journalist showed that his scars were not caused by handling explosives.

“In the light of such weak ‘evidence’, Reporters Without Borders does not believe that Freddy Muñoz is the man sought by the Colombian courts. The organisation fears that the journalist is a victim of political score-settling linked to his work for Telesur, known to be hostile to President Alvaro Uribe. We therefore call for his release,” it added. Muñoz was arrested at Bogota airport on 19 November on his return from Caracas, where Telesur has its headquarters. The channel, which is funded jointly by four Latin American countries, was set up on the initiative of the Venezuelan government, which the Colombian authorities accuse of covering up for FARC.

29.11.06 - Joint call for release of Telesur correspondent, whose detention had been extended

Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s decision to extend the detention of Freddy Muñoz Altamiranda, the Colombian correspondent of the Latin American TV station Telesur. Muñoz was arrested on 19 November at Bogotá airport on his return from Venezuela and was charged with “rebellion” and “terrorism” over allegations dating back to 2002 of links with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Reporters Without Borders is astonished that he was arrested such a long time after the initial investigation and suspects that it was done to intimidate Telesur. The press freedom organisation supports the joint letter which several journalists’ organisations and press freedom groups, including the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP) have sent to President Alvaro Uribe, attorney general Mario Iguarán Arana and ombudsman Vólmar Pérez, in which they vouch for Muñoz’s integrity and professionalism.

21.11.06 - Telesur correspondent wrongly detained for "rebellion and terrorism"

Reporters Without Borders has protested against the arrest and questioning in Bogota of Freddy Muñoz, correspondent in Colombia for the international Latin-American channel Telesur, for “rebellion and terrorism”. The organisation called for his release.

Muñoz, 36, was seized on 19 November 2006 by Colombian intelligence agents from the Administrative Department for Security (DAS) after he landed in Bogota on his return from the Venezuelan capital Caracas where he had attended a training workshop. He had left a week earlier with no trouble.

His lawyer, Tito Gaitán, told Agence France-Presse that the journalist had been arrested on the orders of the prosecutor’s office for “rebellion and terrorism”. Freddy Muñoz himself, speaking from prison, pointed the finger at the Colombian and US governments.

In 2005, Telesur broadcast interviews with guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), seen as terrorist organisations by Bogota and Washington. The TV channel also broadcast footage of demonstrations against President Alvaro Uribe, who at the time expressed his “disquiet”, while the United States called it “provocation”.

“The arrest of Freddy Muñoz is a simple case of misuse of power,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “If it turns out that it was indeed linked to be the broadcast a year ago on Telesur of interviews with the guerrillas, then the Colombian government has made itself guilty of a press freedom violation. How can a journalist interviewing an alleged terrorist become a terrorist in his turn? If this is the argument, it is absurd and dangerous. Freddy Muñoz must be released,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Telesur was founded at the instigation of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in a bid to counter the influence of the north-American TV news channels. Its headquarters is in Caracas and it is funded by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina and Uruguay. It has ten bureaux and 19 correspondents in Latin-America.

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