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Colombia30 April 2003

Outrage about death of two journalists in two days

Reporters Without Borders today voiced its outrage at the murders of two journalists in different parts of Colombia in the past 48 hours and urged the authorities to do everything possible to identify and punish those responsible. Radio presenter Jaime Rengifo Jr. was killed yesterday in Maicao in the northeastern department of Guajira. TV producer and presenter Guillermo Bravo Vega was killed Monday in Neiva in the department of Huila, southwest of the capital.

"The information available so far suggests that both murders were linked to the victims’ work as journalists," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to public prosecutor Luis Camilo Osorio. "It is high time Colombia broke the vicious circle of impunity - letting these murders go unpunished would mean accepting they will be repeated," he said.

Ménard noted that four journalists have been killed since the start of the year and that about 50 have been killed in the past 10 years, which makes Colombia the most dangerous country in the western hemisphere for journalists.

Many of these deaths have been prompted by the victims’ coverage of the decades-old civil war. Both left-wing guerrillas and their right-wing paramilitary foes view journalists as "military targets" if they suspect them of supporting the rival camp. Journalists are also killed because of their reporting on drug-trafficking and government corruption.

Carlos Castaño of the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), Manuel Marulanda of the Marxist FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and Nicolas Rodríguez Bautista of the Guevarist ELN (National Liberation Army) are on the Reporters Without Borders worldwide list of predators of press freedom because of the repeated press freedom violations by the armed groups they lead.

Jaime Rengifo Jr - "the only journalist who spoke out fearlessly"

Rengifo, who presented a programme called "Journalists in action" on Radio Olímpica, was shot dead at dawn yesterday at the entrance to the hotel where he lived in Maicao (Guajira department) by two men who got away on a motorcycle. No group has claimed responsibility for the killing and Rengifo had not received any direct threats, but the words "Death to Jaime Rengifo" was painted on the facade of the town hall at the start of this month.

Rengifo’s radio programme relayed listeners’ criticisms of public companies, local authorities, the army and the police. He had started up a fortnightly publication in February, called El Guajiro, which was distributed in Maracaibo and Bogotá as well as locally. "He was the only journalist who spoke out fearlessly about everything," said a fellow staff member at Radio Olímpica. He had recently drawn attention to the violence and corruption caused by local criminal gangs and paramilitary groups. Late last year, he took part in a local campaign to get the power company Electrocaribe to lower its charges. He had worked in the area for 20 years.

Guillermo Bravo Vega - a "left-wing" journalist

The producer and presenter of the programme "Facts and Figures" on the local TV station Altavisión, Bravo was gunned down outside his home in Neiva (Huila department) by four men on two motorcycles. Hit four times, he died while being taken to hospital. An investigation has been launched, but police have said they do not know what motivated the killing.

Family members and colleagues said Bravo had received "constant death threats." A man who introduced himself as a member of the AUC paramilitaries came to his home in February and warned him that he would be killed if he did not leave the area. Bravo reported this threat to the authorities.

A work colleague said it was clear from the tone of "Facts and Figures," which analysed political and economic issues, that Bravo was a "left-wing" journalist even if he tried to give it a broad appeal. His family did not rule out the possibility that the murder was linked to his coverage in 2000 of the privatisation of a regional state-owned company, Licorería del Huila, in which he had denounced irregularities it its sale to Licorsa.

Of late, Bravo had also contributed to the Neiva-based weekly Tribuna del Sur and had presented cultural programmes for the local public radio station La Emisora Cultural. He received the Simón Bolívar award for journalism in the 1970s when he edited the economic weekly La República. He was a municipal government candidate in Neiva in 2000. In the 1980s, he was a representative of the small left-wing opposition party ANAPO in the Huila departmental assembly.



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