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Colombia14 February 2008

Threatened journalist forced to flee Tolima department, third in Colombia since start of year

Reporters Without Borders is outraged that threats have forced freelance journalist Rogelio Prado Rodríguez to flee Tolima, the central department where he lives and works. The latest threat, on 7 February, took the form of a notice announcing his own death. Prado works for two radio stations, Radio Tropical and Cadena Radial Super, and the local daily Tolima Hoy. For the past two years, he been covering local government fraud allegedly involving the former mayor of the town of Melgar.

“Three Colombian journalists have been forced to flee since the start of the year, two of them in the department of Tolima in the space of a week,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is true that Tolima is a war zone, but the threats that finally convinced Prado to leave seem to be linked to his reporting on local corruption. This is why, like Prado, we hope that the police and judicial authorities will investigate the recent probes into misconduct in the Melgar town hall, and that he gets protection.”

Prado decided to leave after receiving four notices at his home on 7 February, each announcing a funeral mass that was supposedly being organised for him by his family, the three news media he works for, the Tolima departmental authorities and the Melgar municipal authorities.

“The situation started to worsen in October, during the municipal election campaign, when the daily El Nuevo Día started to report what I have already been saying on the radio,” he told Reporters Without Borders. Since then, Prado has been constantly receiving threatening messages on his mobile phone.

In 2006, Prado began covering a judicial investigation into alleged irregularities in contracts issued by José Alejandro Martínez Sánchez (now Tolima’s minister of infrastructure) when he was mayor of Melgar. The attempts to intimidate Prado were stepped up in May 2007, when a package of spoiled meat was left outside his home. Soon afterwards, a stone was thrown through one of the windows of its home. Attached to it was a message telling him to shut up.

Prado began his career as a journalist working for Radio Armero in the town of Armero, where he was born. As well as reporting for Tolima Hoy, he has had a contract with Cadena Radial Super for the past 10 years and he hosts a morning news and talk show on Radio Tropical. In 2006 and 2007, he presented the show “El Bunker” on the army radio station.

The father of five children, Prado said that, aside from his personal situation, he hoped that the judicial authorities shed light on the use of public funds by the Melgar town hall during the past five years.

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