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Colombia29 January 2008

Journalist forced to flee Bolívar department after price put on his head

Reporters Without Borders today voiced serious concern after journalist Alexander Guerrero, of the daily Magangué Hoy, in Magangué, was forced to flee Bolívar department in northern Colombia after he was told that his life was in danger.

The worldwide press freedom organisation also condemned repeated death threats made against, Humberto Bedoya Henao of radio Ondas del Meta, in Villavicencio, and Clodomiro Castilla Ospino, editor of the magazine Pulso del Tiempo and presenter on Voz de Montería in the city of the same name in the north-east. The three recently exposed corruption or misuse of power implicating municipal officials.

Alexander Guerrero has been the target of constant harassment since he reported on 31 December 2007 on the ransacking of the mayor’s offices by supporters of the former mayor, Jorge Luis Alfonso López, who was charged and then acquitted of embezzlement and money-laundering and whose family has alleged links with para-militaries.

After he sent footage of the raid to correspondents of national television stations Caracol and RCN, one of Jorge Luis Alfonso López’s bodyguards stopped him in the street and threatened to kill him. Four days later, Guerrero realised he was being watched by people travelling on a motorbike and parked in front of his home.

The current mayor Magangué, Anuar Arana Gechem, who planned to appoint Guerrero as head of his press service, later warned him that a contract had been taken out on him and that he would be killed before 18 January. On the 15th, the journalist made up his mind and left the city under police escort.

“Seven Colombian journalists had to leave their regions or the country in 2006 and six were forced to do the same in 2007. How many should we expect to be forced into exile in 2008?” asked Reporters Without Borders. “Corruption and alleged or real links between some regional officials and para-militaries makes a journalist’s job almost impossible.”

Certainly, the threatened journalists benefit from vigilance on the part of the interior ministry but the effort to protect them should not provide a screen, and even less an excuse, to leave sensitive cases where the journalists left them. Protection is nothing without a fight against impunity and the restoration of the rule of law.”

Elsewhere, Humberto Bedoya Henao, director of the news programme “Hechos y Opiniones” on Ondas del Meta radio in Villavicencio, central Colombia, received a death threat by telephone on 22 January. The anonymous caller invited the journalist to attend his own funeral. The threatening call came hours after the journalist revealed the fraudulent handing over of a procurement contract from city hall to businessman Leonardo Pérez. The journalist had previously been threatened in October 2007, after making public the criminal record of a candidate to the municipal council in Villavicencio. The Colombian journalists’ federation (FECOLPER) said the plight of Humberto Bedoya Henao had been brought to the attention of the interior and justice ministry.

Finally, Clodomiro Castilla Ospino, a contributor to the programme “Bloque Radial” on radio Voz de Montería and editor of the magazine Pulso del Tiempo, said on air on W Radio on 17 January that he had received death threats, the most recent from Col. Francisco Miranda, a high-ranking local policeman. The journalist linked the threats to his recent investigations into embezzlement of public funds by officials suspected of links with para-militaries. The minister of the interior and justice provided protection to Castilla Ospino.

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