Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm today about a new wave of threats and attacks on journalists in May and June, in which the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have often been to blame. The organisation is also worried about hostility towards the media displayed in recent student protests against an announced cut in government funding for state universities.
“The FARC are staying true to their reputation as press freedom predators in the regions where they are still active,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Their threats are becoming more targeted and direct and their methods are just as appalling as those used by the paramilitaries. The programmes for the protection of journalists that are jointly operated by the government and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must be revised as a matter of urgency, to make them more effective.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We also have no hesitation in condemning recent physical attacks on journalists by student demonstrators, who stupidly identify the press with what they perceive as government hostility towards them. We hope the complaints filed by news media will be properly investigated.”
Freelance journalist Afranio Franco received four threatening phone calls between 14 May and 6 June that are thought to have come from the FARC. He was awoken in his hotel room in Planadas, in the central department of Tolima, in the early hours of one morning in early May by two gunmen, who told him to hand over the camera he had been using. He replied that it was in his cameraman’s room. They took him there and held both journalists in the room before finally leaving with their equipment and material.
Rodrigo Callejas, a journalist based in Fresno, in the department of Tolima, who works for radio Fresno Estéreo, received a phone call on 20 May from a man identifying himself as Luis Alfonso and claiming to represent the FARC. Alfonso said: “This is serious. Listen, your are meddling in our business and for this reason you are going to die.” The call came one day after Callejas, while covering a visit by the departmental governor to Fresno, had noted the presence of a suspicious-looking man with his face hidden by a hat.
Alfonso also warned him “not to touch René Quitián,” referring to an individual who was recently sentenced to five years in prison for “rebellion.” And he criticised Callejas’ links to a businessman suspected of colluding with the paramilitary alliance known as the United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia (AUC). Alfonso finally warned Callejas that his phone was being tapped and he was being followed.
Juan Alberto Giraldo, a reporter for local TV station Telecafé and a correspondent for Noticiero CM&, was struck on the head by a stone thrown during clashes between police and students on 8 June in the western city of Manizales.
El Nuevo Día, a daily based in Ibagué, the capital of Tolima department, needed 60 policemen to fend off an attack by students throwing stones and spraying its walls with graffiti on 13 June, five days after it published photos of violent behaviour during a student demonstration.
El Nuevo Día reporter Adriana Montealegre and photographer Helmer Parra were threatened and ordered to erase the photos in their cameras while covering a meeting at the University of Tolima on 12 June. Hooded demonstrators obstructed and attacked photographers on other campuses during the same wave of protests.
The press have also had to face hostility from the police and army. Members of the armed forces fired shots in the air to drive back about a dozen local journalists who went to cover the deaths of soldiers in a FARC attack on 10 May in the southwestern city of Tulua. Two days later, four journalists were attacked and beaten by police on the street in the northern city of Barranquilla. One of them, Isis Beleño of the daily El Heraldo, was injured.