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Colombia4 December 2006

Two Atlantic coast journalists under paramilitary threat

Reporters Without Borders is deeply concerned by the climate of threats and intimidation towards the press in the Atlantic coast departments, where there is a high concentration of paramilitary groups, which have supposedly been disarmed.

Robinson Ruz Ruz, of Radio Piragua and José Ponce Obispo, news editor of Radio Galeón, recently received repeated death threats for reporting on links between local politicians and paramilitaries.

“The paramilitaries, whose demobilisation should have been completed this year, remain the most dangerous press freedom predators”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “The ‘Águilas Negras’ (Black Eagles) group which has just made death threats against José Ponce Obispo, did the same thing against another Radio Galeón journalist in October this year. We urge the government to promptly investigate these threats and to continue dismantling these paramilitary groups so that they are disarmed,” it added.

Robinson Ruz Ruz, 45, head of the programme “Noticiero del Medio Día” on Radio Piragua, based in Sincelejo, northern Colombia, received a ‘condolence’ message at his office on 28 November. An anonymous caller phoned two days later to say he was glad he had received the message two days previously.

The journalist, who has since been under police protection, made the decision to quit his job at the radio. He had reported criticism against brothers Jairo and Jaime Merlano, respectively senator for the Sucre department and mayor of Sincelejo. Merlano is under judicial investigation for alleged collusion with the “demobbed”.

On 30 November 2006, one of the sons of José Ponce Obispo, news editor on Radio Galeón in Santa Marta, northern Colombia, received a text message saying that his father’s days were numbered, Three days earlier, the journalist received an anonymous tip-off that a paramilitary group had met to plan his murder.

Two men on a motorbike had turned up at his home while he was out on 14 November and told his wife, “Tell that stupid son of whore that we know where he lives and he should be prepared for the consequences.” Fifteen minutes later, Ponce Obispo received a phoned threat at his office in the same terms. A source confirmed to the journalist on 1st December that the Black Eagles were behind the threats. This same group made death threats against Radio Galeón journalist Camilo Munive (See press release of 25 October 2006).

Ponce Obispo, now also under police protection, had also exposed links between local politicians and paramilitaries. Around a score of journalists working in the coastal departments of Sucre, Magdalena and de Córdoba have received death threats from suspected paramilitaries over the past months. One of them was forced to flee the area. Since the start of the year, three journalists have been killed in Colombia, including one, Gustavo Rojas Gabalo, by the “demobbed” in Montería in the north-west in February. The Uribe government and his parliamentary majority are currently reeling from a major scandal over links with the paramilitaries.

Reporters Without Borders has also learned that Marino Pérez Murcia, 58, former reporter on radios Todelar and Caracol, has been gunned down in Bogota, but there is nothing yet to suggest that his murder was linked to his work.

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