Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns last week’s murder of journalist Luis Eduardo Gómez in Arboletes, in the northwestern department of Antioquia, and the threats that two journalists, Medellín-based Mary Luz Avendaño and Bogotá-based Gonzalo Guillén, have been getting in unrelated cases.
The press freedom organization urges the authorities to implement strong protective measures that guarantee the safety of journalists. Colombia needs to prioritize respect for freedom of expression and the fight against impunity.
Gómez, 70, who worked for two newspapers, El Heraldo de Urabá and Urabá al Día, was gunned down in front of his wife by two men on a motorcycle who had followed him to his home in the Arboletes neighbourhood of El Deportivo.
According to the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), the Reporters Without Borders partner organization in Colombia, Gómez had been investigating his son’s 2009 murder and local government finances but had not received any threats.
He was also a witness in judicial investigations into links between a paramilitary group and local politicians and had been due to testify to prosecutors a few days after his murder. He is the fourth witness in these investigations to have been murdered since October 2010. Five other witnesses were forced to leave the region or fled out of fear of reprisals.
Municipal government secretary Esteban Revollo insisted that it was not necessarily the case that paramilitaries were behind Gómez’s murder, but he recognized that the protective measures that were adopted at a special meeting of the municipal council on 29 June had not had the expected results.
The murders of the four witnesses nonetheless appear to constitute yet further evidence for claims that, far from surrendering their arms during the 2003-2006 demobilization, the paramilitaries continue to sow terror and pose a permanent threat to democracy and civil liberties. One of the paramilitary groups, the Black Eagles, has for years been on the Reporters Without Borders list of Predators of Press freedom.
Avendaño, El Espectador’s correspondent in Medellín, and Guillén, a freelancer who used to work for El Tiempo, La Prensa and the Miami Herald, are both targets of intimidation campaigns apparently related to the sensitive issues they write about.
Avendaño received her first warning after writing an article about violence between the different drug trafficking cartels in Antioquia. Both her sources and police intelligence officers warned her of the danger she was running. She received more threats after writing an article about links between criminal gangs and certain sectors of the police, known as “poly-bands.”
The warnings have increased in frequency since then. The latest was a message she received via one of her sources on 22 June saying: “Tell the journalist Mary Luz to stop publishing nonsense, or does she want to win the big lottery prize?” Medellín’s police chief has placed her under police protection.
Guillén has just made a controversial documentary about the release of Ingrid Betancourt, a politician with French and Colombian dual nationality who was held hostage by the FARC guerrillas. Unidentified intruders broke into his home again on 27 May and took documents supporting Guillén’s claims that a ransom was paid for Betancourt’s release, and documents implicating the armed forces in extrajudicial killings. He has been getting telephone threats ever since.
“The film shows documents and first-hand accounts indicating that Ingrid Betancourt, three US soldiers and 11 Colombians were not released in a military operation but because of a deal between the government and two FARC leaders, who were offered 100 million dollars by then President Uribe,” Guillén said, explaining the documentary’s controversial nature.
“Without seeing the documentary, President Santos described me as a ‘FARC puppet,’ thereby making me a target for the unidentified people who call me and threaten to kill me,” Guillén added. He has filed a complaint about the threats with the prosecutor’s office but he is not getting police protection.