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Colombia27 August 2008

Authorities use judicial proceedings to intimidate media

Reporters Without Borders condemns the arbitrary way the Colombian authorities have of late been using summonses and other legal proceedings against journalists and news media whose reporting has clearly annoyed them. President Alvaro Uribe’s call for a criminal investigation of leading journalist Daniel Coronell on 22 August is one example. We hope no investigation will take place.

“Will the press soon have to obtain permission from the executive, legislature or judiciary in ordere to be able to tackle sensitive issues such as the civil war or corruption?” Reporters Without Borders asked. “Do the Uribe administration’s recent successes in combatting the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) give it a particular legitimacy to harass certain journalists, try to use them as police or judicial auxiliaries or, worse still, try to damage their reputation?”

The press freedom organisation added: “We note that the journalists targeted by these different procedures have for a long time been in the government’s sights because of their editorial decisions. We remind the authorities that the confidentiality of journalists’ sources is essential to the media’s work and is guaranteed by the constitution, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and constitutional court rulings. All these legal manoeuvres indicate a deliberate strategy to intimidate the press.”

The supreme court’s criminal chamber and a house of representatives commission have recently summoned several journalists for questioning in investigations into alleged links between politicians close to Uribe and paramilitaries - links collective dubbed as “parapolitics” - and investigations into possible irregularities in the passage of a constitutional amendment allowing a third presidential term.

According to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), a Reporters Without Borders partner organisation, and the daily El Espectador, these investigations have heard testimony from Rodrigo Silva of the privately-owned national radio station Caracol Radio and Edgar Velosa and Sandra Pureza of its sister TV station Canal Caracol.

Uribe said Coronell, the producer of the news programme Noticias Uno on public television station Canal Uno and editorial writer for the privately-owned magazine Semana, should be the subject of a criminal investigation for failing to immediately disclose former parliamentarian Yidis Medina’s claim in a 2004 interview that the government offered her money to vote for the constitutional amendment that allowed Uribe to be reelected. Medina had asked Coronell at the time not to use the interview or quote her, and the interview was not broadcast until April of this year.

Medina, whose name has given rise to the term “Yidispolitics” for political corruption, was charged by the supreme court on 25 June. President Uribe claimed that Coronell was guilty of obstructing the judicial proceedings against her by keeping certain information and sources to himself.

Repeatedly threatened by paramilitaries and forced into exile for a period in 2005, Coronell has often criticised Uribe. In a live radio broadcast on 9 October 2007, the president accused him of being a “liar,” a “bastard” and a “professional slanderer’ (see release of 15 October 2007). Coronell afterwards received threats from the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles), a group of paramilitary origin.

William Parra, a correspondent of the Latin American satellite TV news station Telesur, and Carlos Lozano, the editor of the Communist Party weekly Voz, have meanwhile been summoned for questioning in an investigation into alleged links - dubbed “Farcpolitics” - between the guerrillas and certain leading opposition figures.

The accusations are based on information which the authorities claimed to have found in the laptop of Raúl Reyes, the FARC deputy leader killed in Ecuador on 1 March. Parra and his Telesur colleague Freddy Muñoz had already been accused of complicity with the guerrillas (see release of 27 November 2007) while President Uribe himself had accused Lozano, a former mediator with the rebels, of guerrilla links.

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