Reporters Without Borders voiced confusion today about the manner in which a new warrant was issued on 7 February for the arrest of Freddy Muñoz, the Colombian correspondent of the pan-Latin American TV station Telesur, who was freed on 9 January after being held for 50 days.
Charged with providing logistic support for a 2002 bombing by guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Muñoz was freed for lack of evidence after former FARC members retracted statements implicating him and a medical report concluded that the scars he has on his abdomen were not caused by the mishandling of explosives.
When judicial officials issued the new warrant on 7 February, without notifying his lawyer, they cited “new evidence”, namely “documents found at his home by the Department for Administrative Security (DAS), a military intelligence agency, a medical report that contradicted the original one and a photo”.
Muñoz’s lawyer, Tito Gaitán, has pointed out that his client did not undergo any new medical examination following his release, and that the DAS search had been carried out a long time ago, and was anyway not conducted at Muñoz’s home but at the home of a lawyer who defends alleged guerrillas, with whom Muñoz had left one of his business cards.
The weekly Cambio and the daily El Tiempo published a photo of “Freddy Muñoz with FARC guerrillas” (see photo) on 10 February, three days before Gaitán had access to the latest evidence against his client. The two publications also reported that Muñoz had fled to Venezuela, where Telesur has its headquarters.
In a statement posted online yesterday, Muñoz denounced the photo as “montage” and voiced astonishment that it had appeared a month after his release. He also condemned links between certain judicial officials, DAS agents and paramilitaries. He denied fleeing to Venezuela but said he had gone into hiding after receiving death threats by email from the “Black Eagles” paramilitary group. This group was behind a campaign of terror against the Caribbean coast media at the end of last year (see releases).
Commenting on the latest developments, Reporters Without Borders today said: “These proceedings against Muñoz are marred by many irregularities. He should be presumed innocent until proved guilty and his security should be guaranteed. Neither of these rights has been respected. We will continue to support him as long as he is the target of threats and no formal proof of his guilt has been established.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Our organisation also condemns any exploitation of this case for ideological or political ends. Colombia has the misfortune of having two major press freedom predators - the FARC and the paramilitaries.”
10.01.07 - Telesur correspondent’s release hailed as “wise decision”
Reporters Without Borders today hailed the release yesterday of Freddy Muñoz, the Colombia correspondent of the pan-Latin American TV network Telesur, who had been detained since 19 November on charges of “rebellion” and “terrorism.” The charges have not, however, been withdrawn.
“Given the lack of evidence, it was a wise decision by the judicial authorities to free Muñoz,” the press freedom organisation said. “Nonetheless, for the same reasons, it would be strange if these charges of rebellion and terrorism remain in place as there is nothing to support them. We hope they will be quickly withdrawn and that he will be given protection.”
Muñoz, 36, was freed from Baranquilla prison in northern Colombia, where he had been held for 50 days. His release took place four days after it was ordered by the Bolívar high court prosecutor’s office because of the lack of evidence. The court nonetheless maintained the charges against him and gave permission for the investigation to continue.
Muñoz was arrested at Bogotá airport on his return from Caracas, where Telesur has its headquarters. He is alleged to have taken part in a bombing by the leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2002, in which no one was injured.
Three detained guerrillas made statements implicating Muñoz, although none of them was able to name or describe him. One of them finally retracted his statement. A forensic report meanwhile established that Muñoz’s scars were not caused by the mishandling of explosives.
Muñoz’s lawyer, Tito Gaitán, told Reporters Without Borders that men claiming to be members of the Department for Security Administration (DAS), a military intelligence agency, went to Baranquilla prison and questioned his fellow detainees immediately after his release.
Muñoz’s colleagues fear there could be reprisals against him following his release. Alfredo Correa de Andréis, a sociologist who was also suspected of FARC links, was murdered immediately after being freed from prison on 17 September 2004.