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Colombia7 February 2008

Journalist closes radio station and flees amid FARC attempts to force media to relay its propaganda

Reporters Without Borders condemns the threats that forced José Joaquín Chávez, the manager of Acción Estéreo community radio and a reporter for the Voz del Tolima daily, to abandon his home in the western department of Tolima and suspend the station’s operations on 3 February. The threats were allegedly made by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and they come amid an increase in attempts by the guerrillas to intimidate the news media.

“Chávez is the second Colombian journalist to be forced to abandon the region where he lives and works since the start of the year,” the press freedom organisation said. “Like the paramilitaries, the FARC are true to their reputation as media predators, with the difference that they want the media to put out their propaganda.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Local journalists are the ones that suffer most as they are the most exposed to the civil war. Investigations into these threats are unlikely to lead to those responsible being punished, but protection of the media must be reinforced.”

Chávez received a phone call at the radio station on 16 January ordering him to not broadcast any more army appeals to the guerrillas to demobilize. Several threatening messages followed when he refused to comply. During a phone-in programmes the next day, a caller identifying himself as John addressed greetings to “the FARC’s Jacobo Prías Alape column.” On 1 February, an anonymous caller told Chávez he would die if he did not close down the station within one hour. Chávez left Anzoátegui, where he lives, and shut down the station two days later.

Two other cases of FARC intimidation have been reported in the part two weeks. Luis Suárez, the head of programming of local TV station Telemar Canal 2 in the western city of Buenaventura, received a “summons” on 25 January to meet with Erminson “Mincho” Gutiérrez, the commander of the FARC’s Bloc 30. Suárez told the Peru-based Press and Society Institute (IPYS) that two days later, guerrillas took him to see a man in his 60s who identified himself as Mincho and ordered him to broadcast a message about the FARC’s plans for 2008.

Suárez told this story on the air and played his audio recording of the interview. The Buenaventura police announced on 5 February that they planned to analyse the recording of Mincho’s voice as it had been assumed until then that he had died in combat. The TV station said the voice in the recording matched that of previous recordings of Mincho.

Juan Gossaín, the news director of the privately-owned national radio station RCN in the northern city of Cartagena, was warned on 4 February, the day of an international anti-FARC march, that he and all of RCN’s branches would be the target of bombings if RCN attended the march. RCN nonetheless did take part in the march and Gossaín let it be known that he would not leave the country. Gossaín has in the past also been ordered to stop covering alleged corruption involving the city’s administrations.

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