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Colombia7 March 2003

Concern about death threats against head of news photographers’ association

Reporters Without Borders today voiced concern about a series of death threats received by Gladys Barajas, the head of the Circle of Colombian News Photographers (CRGC), and urged the authorities to ensure her safety.

"The messages received by Gladys Barajas constitute a new offensive by the enemies of press freedom, who no longer just target journalists but also their defenders," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to interior minister Fernando Londonno. "We urge you to do everything possible to ensure her safety and thereby prevent further deterioration in the already critical situation of the press."

Barajas announced her intention of leaving Colombia on 3 March, after receiving an e-mail message the previous evening warning her that she had seven days to live and that her silence "would no longer suffice" to save her life. Previously, On 17 and 25 February, she received anonymous letters saying that "the time of defending journalists is over" and pronouncing "death to trade unionists and the defenders of press freedom." The origin of these threats is unknown.

The CRGC had issued a press release on 13 February protesting against the beating received by Herminso Ruiz, a photographer with the weekly El Espectador, at the hands of police officers when he was covering the attack on the El Nogal night club on 7 February. The release also mentioned the cases of Wilson Vizcaino of the daily El Tiempo and Diego Cauca of the daily Portafolio, who were also recently harassed by police. The CRGC also took part in a demonstration by journalists on 24 January to demand the release of two foreign reporters who were abducted by guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Arauca department.

Attacks on press freedom are taking an increasing toll on journalists in Colombia. According to information compiled by Reporters Without Borders, five journalists and media assistants were killed in 2002, about 60 were abducted, threatened or physically attacked, more than 20 were forced to flee the country or the region where they lived and worked, and there were eight attacks or attempted attacks with explosives. In January of 2003, eight journalists were kidnapped by illegal armed groups and seven others were obstructed in the course of their work by the police or other authorities.

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