Reporters Without Borders today voiced its concern about a series of attacks against the press in the run-up to regional elections in Colombia on 28 October.
A crew from privately-owned television Caracol was yesterday the target of a vicious attack with machetes and stones while reporting on a scam in connection with land sales. A few days previously, a journalist on the privately-owned daily La Nación was forced to wipe photos taken during a meeting of election candidates.
“Repeated press freedom violations have been committed by candidates or by former political leaders these last weeks. The electoral campaign has revived threats against journalists in a politically charged climate because of the influence of armed groups and corruption,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“We urge the authorities, who are too often implicated in such cases, to respect journalists and to guarantee their safety so that they effectively inform the public about these elections. Putting an end to this climate would be to show themselves worthy of votes,” it added.
Julia Navarrete a journalist with Caracol, and her crew went to the north of Bogotá to investigate threats made against people who had been swindled in land purchase cases. Two people set on the journalists when they were questioned them about the identity of the owner of the plots of land.
The journalist told Reporters Without Borders that one of the managers, a woman, began insulting the television crews and throwing stones at them while “the other got out a machete which he tried to use”. The cameraman managed to protect himself with his camera which was broken in the attack.
Julia Navarrete said the man behind the illegal sales was reportedly Mariano Porras, a former municipal councillor and former member of parliament, who was sentenced in 2005 to seven years in prison for irregularities in the construction and allocation of houses. He was apparently in hiding. The purchasers of the plots of land said an armed group in the pay of a former election official, the “duros de matar” (hard to kill), threatened them to keep silent. Mariano Porras appears to have kept his political connections.
On 21 September 2007, Viviana Vargas, journalist on La Nación was threatened by supporters of the Liberal Party candidate in the municipality of Neiva, Huila department, in the southwest, Pedro Hernán Suárez. One of the bodyguards of the candidate, who is also a member of the intelligence service, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), forced him to wipe photos taken at a political meeting. Four days earlier, Pedro Hernán Suárez and Carlos Mauricio Iliarte, candidate to the post of governor of Huila, announced that he would in future boycott the dailies La Nación and Diario de Huila for publishing results of a poll that was unfavourable to the Liberal Party.
Samit Linero, a journalist on Al Día, was also threatened by telephone after publication on 18 September 2007, of an investigation into corruption cases implicating four municipal councillors in Soledad, Atlantico department, in the north of the country, who are campaigning for re-election. Two days later, he was surrounded in the street by four people who were clearly trying to assault him.
Hollman Morris, producer of the broadcast “ContravÌa” on public channel Canal Uno, a leading expert on the armed conflict and very critical of the government of Alvaro Uribe, received new death threats by e-mail on 27 September. The anonymous writers accused him of being a “guerillero” and an “anti-patriot”. His picture marked with a cross and the words “for very soon” figured on the heading of the message. Morris’s programme has not been broadcast on the first channel for the past two months, because of lack of funds.