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Colombia27 November 2007

Authorities accuse Telesur reporter over interview with FARC hostage

Reporters Without Borders today condemned allegations made by national police director Gen. Oscar Naranjo against journalist William Parra of the pan-Latin American TV news station Telesur over an interview with an army captain, Guillermo Javier Solórzano, who is being held hostage by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Gen. Naranjo has accused Parra of being a FARC accomplice and of “manipulating” the interview, which has been broadcast on 25 November as part of a documentary called “Voces desde la Selva” (Voices from the Jungle).

“The accusations against Parra are unjustified and could compromise his safety and his ability to work,” the press freedom organisation said. “Gen. Naranjo’s comments are tantamount to saying that a journalist is an accomplice to the events he covers. The list of journalists being branded by senior government officials is getting longer and longer, and some have recently had to leave the country because of threats.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We call on the Colombian government not to let press freedom suffer as a result of the tension with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez over his attempts to mediate in the release of FARC hostages. Another of Telesur’s Colombian correspondents, Freddy Muńoz, was threatened by paramilitaries and detained a year or so ago for allegedly being a FARC member after a doctored photo was circulated.”

Parra gave a copy of the interview with Capt. Solórzano, which was filmed in October, to opposition senator Piedad Córdoba shortly before it was made public. She travelled to Caracas to show it to President Chávez. But then, three days before that, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe announced that the mediation by Chávez and Córdoba was being terminated.

The Colombian authorities immediately accused Parra of trying to exploit the interview, and the interest and emotion it was bound to raise, to make Chávez look good, despite the fact that - according to them - it was filmed before Uribe asked Chávez to act as mediator. Parra is “implicated in the crime of kidnapping since it is not his job to record evidence of hostages being still alive in FARC camps,” Gen. Naranjo said.

Naranjo has asked Parra to explain the nature of his relations with the FARC guerrillas and has accused him of pressuring the Solórzano family to say the video had been filmed just a week earlier. President Uribe repeated these accusations in a press release.

Parra told Reporters Without Borders he gave the Solórzano family a copy of the interview from his documentary several weeks ago although the editing of the documentary was only completed on 23 November. The family told the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal that no journalist had forced them to say that the evidence that Solórzano was still alive had been obtained thanks to Chávez’s mediation.

The Department for Security Administration (DAS), Colombia’s leading domestic intelligence agency, has offered to protect Parra and has got in contact with Telesur for this purpose. Camilo Romero, the head of the Telesur bureau in Colombia, said he held the Colombian government responsible for the safety of all of the station’s staff in Colombia.

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