Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today that Germán Hernández Vera, the managing editor of the regional Diario del Huila daily newspaper in the southwestern city of Neiva, was forced to flee the region this month after being repeatedly threatened. It is the second case of forced flight by a journalist since the start of the year (see release of 19 March).
“Hernández’s case once again highlights the virtual impossibility for the Colombian press to operate and cover sensitive subjects in certain parts of the country,” the press freedom organisation said. “We regret that the local authorities in Huila did not react more quickly and we hope an investigation will be carried out to identify the source of the threats against him, especially as he was working on a subject with no direct link to the civil war.”
A court and crime reporter, Hernández has been Diario del Huila’s managing editor for the past four years. On 15 February, he ran a story about the embezzlement of around 4 million euros within the main Neiva hospital. He received an anonymous call on his mobile phone on 27 February saying: “You are going to die, son of a bitch.” Hernández and his colleagues quickly established that the call was made via a telephone exchange located opposite the newspaper.
The staff immediately reported the incident to the local police, which took no action. Hernández then contacted the intelligence agency known as the Department for Security Administration (DAS), which linked the threats to the 15 February story. Then, on 28 February, he began receiving constant calls on his mobile phone from public call boxes warning him that he would die soon.
He fled the region on 13 March, although his departure was only reported 12 days later. He said he would not return to Huila without receiving guarantees for his security, but he promised to continue to work while in hiding.
The department of Huila is one of the regions that has been most affected by the civil war. Neiva mayor Cielo González Villa was this month the target of two bombings within the space of 72 hours. One, on 22 March outside radio HJ Doble K, left 10 people wounded. The authorities said there was a detachment of guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the city. The FARC are very active in the region. Diario del Huila and another daily, La Nación, both receive police protection as they are the targets of threats.