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Colombia6 February 2004

Impunity blamed for murder of TV news presenter and abduction of TV reporter

Reporters Without Borders today blamed the lack of any policy to combat impunity for the murder of local TV news presenter Oscar Alberto Polanco Herrera on 4 February in the western city of Cartago and the abduction and torture of TV reporter and presenter Inés Peña on 28 January in the northern city of Barrancabermeja.

"Such horrible crimes would not recur if those responsible were not sure of enjoying complete impunity, but the fight against impunity unfortunately appears not to be a priority for the government," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to interior and justice minister Sabas Pretelt de la Vega.

"Investigations into murders and attacks on journalists should receive special attention as there will be no peace in Colombia as long as society’s right to be informed is not protected and respected," the letter added.

The organisation called on the authorities to do everything possible to ensure that those responsible for the two latest attacks are identified and quickly brought to trial. It also urged them to protect Peña, who has decided to go back to work despite the serious threats she has received.

Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Five journalist were killed in 2003, around 60 were kidnapped, threatened or physically attacked, and more than 20 had to flee the country, or the area where they lived and worked.

(JPEG) Polanco was shot three times in the head by contract killers on a motorcycle on 4 February as he left the studios of CNC Noticias, a local TV station in Cartago (300 km west of Bogota), where he produced and presented the city’s only local news programme.

For the past month, his programme had included a new daily segment in which he reported irregularities in the running of local bodies and companies and questioned those in charge on the air. He had, for example, accused the town’s mayor, who is the subject of an investigation for presumed links with a drug trafficker.

Several of his colleagues think his murder could have been a result of the direct approach he took in this segment. But none of them said they were aware of his receiving any threats. There have been violent clashes between various criminal groups for several months in Cartago for control of drug trafficking. At the same time, the gangs are thought to be allied with paramilitary groups present in the region.

Peña is a young woman who presents a segment called "Culture for Life" in the news programme "La Mohana" on the regional TV channel Enlace 10 in Barrancabermeja (400 km north of Bogota). She is also one of the leaders of the Women’s Popular Organisation (OPF), which produces the TV segment she presents.

According to an OPF press release, two paramilitaries from the United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia (AUC) forced Peña into a vehicle on 28 January, threatened her, shaved her head and scalded her feet with boiling water. They finally released her after ordering her to stop presenting her segment on the TV programme.

Peña has criticised the arrival of paramilitaries in the region and human rights violations by the various armed groups, and has been threatened before. La Mohana producer Martha Arias told the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP) that Peña is not just a presenter but also a reporter and a member of the programme’s editorial board. She also belongs to the "Network of Young People for Human Rights," which works with the Office of the Ombudsman.

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