Reporters Without Borders

Death threats made against two Colombian TV journalists and a car bomb discovered near the offices of a leading Bogotá newspaper

Published on Tuesday 30 April 2002. .
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Reporters Without Borders today deplored death threats made against two Colombian TV journalists and expressed concern about a car bomb discovered near the offices of a leading Bogotá newspaper on 28 April. In a letter to President Andrés Pastrana, RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard regretted that "since the beginning of the year, press freedom in Colombia has sharply declined as tension increases because of the presidential election and attacks by guerrillas of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) become more frequent."

He called for an investigation into death threats made against Daniel Coronell, head of the "Noticias Uno" news programme on the Canal Uno station, and Ignacio Gómez, the programme’s chief investigator. RSF stressed that it was "important for media diversity" in Colombia that Noticio Uno continued its work and noted that four of the country’s eight major TV news programmes had disappeared in recent years because of greater competition. It added that El Tiempo was the fourth Colombian media outlet to be the victim or target of an attack since the beginning of the year.

RSF also urged the authorities to investigate how a car bomb came to be parked a few yards from the offices of the daily newspaper El Tiempo in Bogota. The city’s police chief, Hector Castro, said the 40 kg of explosives had not been set to go off, did not seem to have been aimed at the paper and that the car appeared to have been abandoned as a result of police pressure. Police said the explosives belonged to the urban militias of the FARC and were to be used in further bomb attacks by the group. However the Colombian army said in a statement that the car bomb was in fact aimed at the newspaper. Some observers told RSF it may have been an attempt to intimidate the newspaper’s staff. Over the past week, several bombs attributed to the FARC have been defused by police and the secret service have carried out some 40 raids in the Bogota region, arrested 17 suspected members of FARC and seized three and a half tonnes of explosives. Three other physical attacks have been made on the media since the beginning of the year. A car bomb went off on 30 January near the main offices of the Caracol TV station, but nobody was hurt. Twelve people were killed on 7 April when a bomb exploded near the offices of Radio Súper, in the town of Villavicencio, southeast of Bogota. Aides of independent presidential candidate Álvaro Uribe said the radio had been targeted by the FARC after it had broadcast remarks by him, but the radio firmly denied this. The offices of RCN TV, west of Bogotá, were damaged when a bomb went off there on 12 April.

Canal Uno’s Daniel Coronell received four anonymous death threats on 22 and 23 April at his office and at home. The caller threatened to kill the journalist’s three-year-old daughter, who has since been sent abroad. The calls came after "Noticias Uno" broadcast an item suggesting that presidential candidate Álvaro Uribe had links with drug lords. The report said a helicopter seized during a 1984 anti-drug operation had belonged to a company that Uribe’s father co-owned. In 1981, the country’s civil aviation department, then headed by his son, had granted the aircraft an operating licence in an unusually quick 24 hours. Candidate Uribe reacted by trying to discredit Coronell, who said the station’s investigations chief, Ignacio Gómez, had been unable to get a comment from him before the programme went out and had even invited Uribe to appear live during the broadcast. Gómez was threatened several times two weeks before the broadcast, but he refused to make a firm link between the threats and the programme and said they may have been because of other sensitive subjects he had investigated.

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