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Colombie12 July 2002

Four staff members of RCN Radio and Radio Caracol released

Luis Eduardo Perdomo (driver) and José Rodríguez (technician), of the RCN radio station, along with Oscar González (technician) and Henry Pineda (driver) of Radio Caracol, were freed during the night of 11-12 July after being held for four days. They reappeared at night in Salento, west of Bogotá, after walking for more than six hours.

They said they had been well-treated by their armed captors, who they could not identify, but who RCN Radio said may have been FARC guerrillas. The kidnappers kept the vehicles and equipment of the four men after the two radio stations refused to pay a ransom for the men’s release.

07.10.2002 - AUC paramilitary forces have stepped up their threats against journalists in the oil port of Barrancabermeja

Anyela Muñoz Trujillo, owner and managing editor of the city’s weekly paper El Vocero, was threatened on 9 July by two armed men, apparently AUC members.

They threatened to kill a member of the paper’s staff if the next day’s issue was printed and covered crime in the city in a "sensationalist" way. Another weekly, La Tarde, got similar threats and Janeth Ojeda, managing editor of the weekly La Noticia, was followed by a car for several hundred yards during the night of 8-9 July.

The editors of La Tarde and El Vocero said they would publish despite the threats. Muñoz Trujillo filed complaints with the local state ombudsman and the police, who posted guards in front of El Vocero’s offices. Both women have bodyguards.

Several journalists interviewed "Comandante Richard," an AUC leader, in the northeastern suburbs of the city on 9 July. He said he knew nothing of the threats to Muñoz Trujillo but suggested they might have come from the left-wing guerrillas or from common criminals, a version discounted by the editor herself.

The AUC chieftain did however confirm what an AUC colleague, "Comandante Alex," told the daily Vanguardia Liberal, that the AUC would carry out their threats if the papers did not report the news in a "less extreme manner."

The online edition of the weekly El Espectador said the repeated threats against newspapers in Barrancabermeja started on 22 December 2000, the day AUC forces entered the northern parts of the city for the first time. It said several journalists were threatened and their equipment smashed as they covered the AUC’s arrival.

07.09.2002 - Four media workers kidnapped by guerrillas; local newspapers threatened by paramilitaries in Barrancabermeja

Reporters without borders has expressed concern after a number of newspapers published in Santander department (north-eastern Colombia), were threatened by United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC) paramilitaries on 8 July 2002. "It is time that the armed groups stop viewing journalists as targets and controlling information as an acceptable tactic," stated Robert Ménard, the organisation’s secretary-general, in a letter to AUC leader Carlos Castaño. Reporters without borders asked Interior Minister Armando Estrada Villa to use all means at his disposal to protect journalists. "It is essential that the authorities contact the media outlets that have been targeted, to prevent these threats from turning into assassinations," added Ménard.

In addition, Reporters without borders expressed concern over the 8 July kidnapping of four employees of the RCN Radio and Radio Caracol stations, allegedly carried out by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) guerrillas. The organisation urged the FARC to free the four individuals and promise to respect Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which protects "persons taking no active part in the hostilities". Since 1995, the guerrillas have kidnapped approximately 50 journalists, mostly to demand that certain information is distributed in exchange for the hostages’ release.

Journalists have become military targets in the armed conflict between the AUC and the guerrillas of the FARC (Marxists) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN - supporters of Che Guevara’s philosophy). Castaño (AUC), Manuel Marulanda (FARC) and Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (ELN) are included on Reporters without borders’ list of the 38 most dangerous press freedom predators in the world. Colombia is the most dangerous country on the continent for information professionals, 40 of whom have been killed since 1991.

According to information collected by Reporters without borders, in an interview which appeared in the 8 July edition of the daily Vanguardia Liberal, Commander "Alex", of the AUC central block, stated: "Either [the press] stops toying with the community’s pain, or we will find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to execute someone, so that they understand the people’s pain." According to "Alex", the threats stem from the "sensationalistic" way in which local media report on the Barrancabermeja port. The oil-producing region is disputed territory between the AUC and the guerrillas. During a press conference, representatives of five newspapers published in Santander department, including the weeklies La Noticia, La Tarde, La Portada, El Vocero, and the daily Vanguardia Liberal, condemned the threats and urged the authorities to provide them with security and ensure that their right to inform is upheld.

Moreover, according to the information collected by Reporters without borders, Luis Eduardo Perdomo and José Rodríguez, a driver and technician for RCN Radio, respectively, along with Oscar González and Henry Pineda, a technician and driver for Radio Caracol, respectively, were kidnapped on 8 July presumably by FARC members. The incident occurred while they were reporting on the national long-distance bicycle race, in Tolima department (central Colombia). RCN Radio engineer Valdemar Campos confirmed that one of the technicians called him from a cellular phone to tell him that the four were being held by the guerrillas, who would likely let them go and keep the stations’ equipment and vehicles. The kidnappers asked for a sum of money in exchange for the confiscated material. Reporters without borders spoke with the two radio stations and was told that, as of 9 July, the four individuals were still being detained. In a joint press release, RCN Radio and Radio Caracol asked for their employees’ release, "in the name of freedom of expression and information," and "so that they can continue to work for Colombian sports."

In this country
15 May - Colombia
Former intelligence officials leak list of news media and journalists whose phones were tapped
28 April - Colombia
Radio reporter gunned down in Cauca department, probably in connection with his work
27 February - Colombia
Call for inter-american intervention in new phone-tap scandal
27 August - Colombia
Authorities use judicial proceedings to intimidate media
20 June - Colombia
Kidnapped journalist Mario Alfonso Puello released after four months in captivity

in the annual report
Colombia - Annual Report 2008
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Colombia - Annual report 2006

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