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European Union - Colombia6 February 2004

Open letter to Javier Solana raises press freedom concerns in Colombia
Week of 9 February 2004: Colombian president’s visit to Europe

Mr Javier Solana European Union High Representative For the Common Foreign and Security Policy Brussels - Belgium

Paris, 6 February 2004

Dear Mr High Representative,

Reporters Without Borders wishes to draw your attention to serious threats to press freedom in Colombia, ahead of your meeting in three days time with President Alvaro Uribe Vélez.

Our international press freedom organisation is first of all concerned about the effect of the anti-terror law adopted in December 2003 on the protection of sources. It authorises the military, without legal warrant, to make arrests, searches, tap phones and intercept private mail of people suspected of having links with terrorist activities. The absence of any legal control opens the door to abuse. If it is going to be used against journalists covering armed groups, it will threaten the protection of their sources and compromise the neutrality of the press.

Reporters Without Borders is also worried about a draft law on an alternative to prison proposed by the Colombian government in the framework of demobilisation of paramilitary groups (AUC).

It would offer militia members known to have committed atrocities, the chance to give up their weapons and be put under house arrest or pay a fine. But these armed groups have never stopped viewing journalists as targets. In 2001, head of the AUC Carlos Castaño said, "I cannot accept that journalism should become a weapon in the hands of one of the sides in the conflict."

Paramilitary groups murdered more than half of the 23 journalists who have been killed since 1999. In a country were impunity enjoyed by killers has given rise to repeated violence against the press, such a law will only encourage these murders.

Finally, 2003 again saw a heavy toll of attacks on press freedom: five journalists were killed, nearly 60 kidnapped, threatened or assaulted and more than 20 were forced to leave their region, if not the country itself. One journalist has been killed already in 2004 and one of his colleagues kidnapped and tortured. As a result we urge you to press Mr. Vélez to make it his government’s priority to counter impunity for killers so that the country can recover from this spiral of violence.

Extra funds should be found to investigate killings and assaults on journalists, not to give special treatment to a particular profession but to protect the people’s right to be informed. Reporters Without Borders considers that Colombia will never know peace, as long as this right is not respected.

Convinced that you will be open to this appeal, I would be very grateful if you could keep us informed about how this interview goes.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Ménard Secretary-general



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
Colombia - Annual report 2007
Colombia - Annual report 2006


reports
14 March 2008 - Cuba
No surrender by independent journalists, five years on from “black spring”
5 June 2007 - Venezuela
Closure of Radio Caracas Televisión consolidates media hegemony
22 May 2007 - Colombia
Paramilitary "black eagles" poised to swoop down on press
archives

Americas press releases
3 June - United States
President Obama urged to raise freedom of expression in his Cairo speech
29 May - Venezuela
Open letter to President Hugo Chavez to protest about official hounding of Globovisión
27 May - Mexico
Crime reporter abducted and killed in Durango state
20 May - Cuba
Anyone can browse the Internet... unless they are Cuban
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Journalist gets three-year jail sentence

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