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Colombia27 November 2002

Colombian court rules restrictions on foreign press unconstitutional

On 26 November, Colombia’s constitutional court ruled that several provisions in a presidential decree of 10 September creating "special rehabilitation and consolidation zones" were unconstitutional.

The provisions faulted by the court included one requiring foreign journalists or Colombian journalists working for international news media to obtain permission from the interior ministry in order to visit these zones. The court ruled that, "no journalist, Colombian or foreign, is obliged to request an authorisation of this nature because it violates press and news freedom, which is guaranteed by the constitution."

The court said it was also unconstitutional to give judicial police powers to the army and empower the army to carry out a census of the population in these zones.

In a letter to President Alvaro Uribe on 18 September, Reporters Without Borders had voiced its concern about the authorization given to the army to carry out arrests and searches and tap telephones, and about the impact this would have on the confidentiality of press sources. The organization had warned that the application of these measures to journalists would jeopardise the neutrality of the press.

The court also faulted a presidential decree of 21 September creating two special zones grouping 29 districts in the north of the country. According to the court, a legislative decree signed by all the ministers in the government would be required to create such zones.

10.28.2002 - Journalists barred from army-controlled areas without special permit

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a 24 October ban by the Colombian government on foreign journalists going without a permit into army-controlled areas set up last 12 August under the state of emergency to combat armed groups in the country.

The measure was an unjustified curb on freedom of movement contravening article 13 of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights because journalists would have to wait for the permits to be issued, the organisation said.

It called it was a step backwards by the Colombian government, which had promised on 16 September to give all foreign journalists in the country laissez-passers that were permanent or at least valid for several months. The new permits will be issued for limited periods or specific assignments.

Presidential press chief Ricardo Galán said the permits would be granted, only to properly accredited journalists, by the interior ministry, which would inform provincial governors and other relevant authorities that the journalists would be travelling. He stressed the danger of the media going to such areas. The measure will also apply to Colombian journalists working for foreign media.

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