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Colombia

Key Developments

» Climate of violence and intimidation against journalists persists.

» Impunity prevails for past journalist murders as cases go cold.

Journalists reporting on sensitive issues like the country’s decades-long armed conflict, crime, and corruption faced renewed violence and intimidation. A journalist at Colombia’s leading newsmagazine narrowly survived an assassination attempt, while reporters throughout the country were repeatedly threatened, and in some cases forced to flee their homes and the country. One journalist and one media support worker were murdered in direct retaliation for their work. The violence caused reporters outside the major urban centers to self-censor for fear of their lives. Meanwhile, journalists covering the months-long anti-government demonstrations by peasant farmers in northern Catatumbo were violently targeted by all sides. Justice continued to progress haltingly in the five-year investigation into an illegal government espionage program that targeted critical journalists, among others, as the Supreme Court dropped charges against the former head of the National Intelligence Agency and another court released an official of the agency who had been previously convicted, according to news reports. Seven former secret police detectives were sentenced to preventive detention on charges of “psychologically torturing” and anonymously threatening journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, one of the espionage victims, for her coverage of the 1999 murder of a journalist. In a positive development, a criminal defamation conviction against editor Luis Agustín González was overturned by the Supreme Court. As President Juan Manuel Santos’ government continued peace negotiations with the leftist guerrilla organization the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a government-created commission reported that Colombia’s more than 50-year conflict has killed at least 220,000 people, the vast majority of them noncombatants.



  • 1

    Journalist killed
  • 2

    Non-fatal attacks in 2013
  • 5th

    Impunity Index rating
  • 44%

    Murders gone cold
 

At least one journalist was killed in Colombia in 2013 in direct retaliation for his work. In September, Édison Alberto Molina was shot dead as he headed home from the radio station where he worked.

Molina hosted a weekly program called “Consultorio Jurídico” (The Law Office) on community radio station Puerto Berrío Stereo. Orlando González, director of the station and Molina’s co-host, told CPJ that Molina often used the call-in program to accuse the government of corruption. He said Molina had received several threats in recent months, including a plastic bag filled with black dirt and unidentified bones that arrived the week before he was killed.

Fatalities in Colombia over time:
 

Two journalists survived attacks in 2013, according to CPJ research. Ricardo Calderón, an editor of the leading newsweekly Semana, was shot at by two gunmen while he was in his car in May, according to news reports. He escaped injury by diving into a ditch, the reports said.

In March, another journalist, Juan David Betancur, received a letter bomb in the mail that failed to explode, according to news reports. Betancur, director of the monthly El Panamericano, told CPJ he believed the threat stemmed from his coverage of allegations of wrongdoing by a former city official.

Throughout the country, reporters were threatened and forced to flee their homes. The targeted journalists had reported on sensitive topics like political corruption, lavish jail conditions for military officials convicted of grave human rights abuses, and the country’s armed conflict.


A climate of violence and intimidation:

8

Journalists were threatened after reporting on land restitution.

2

Journalists were internally displaced after being threatened for their reporting on criminal groups.

3

Journalists, along with a political analyst, were forced to flee the country after authorities discovered an assassination plot against them that was linked to their investigation of ties between local politicians and organized crime, according to the local press freedom organization Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).
 

Colombia ranked fifth on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are killed regularly and authorities fail to solve the crimes. At least eight journalist murders are unsolved over the past decade.

CPJ's 2013 Impunity Index
1. Iraq
2. Somalia
3. Philippines
4. Sri Lanka
5. Colombia
6. Afghanistan
7. Mexico
8. Pakistan
9. Russia
10. Brazil
11. Nigeria
12. India
 

Since 1977, 44 percent of all journalist murder cases have been closed because the statute of limitations had run out, according to the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

The vast majority of murders of journalists in Colombia have gone unsolved and unpunished, according to CPJ research. Occasionally, the killers are caught and convicted, but the masterminds who target reporters nearly always remain free. Murders in Colombia have a 20- or 30-year statute of limitations, depending on when they were committed.


Impunity, in law and practice, according to FLIP:

140

Journalists murdered since 1977

62

Cases closed because the statute of limitations had expired

19

Total convictions

5

Unsolved journalist murders for which the statute of limitations will expire by the end of 2014

1

Exception. In March, the Attorney General’s office classified the 1993 murder of Eustorgio Colmenares Baptista as a crime against humanity and thus not subject to statutes of limitations, according to news reports. The only other journalist murder to receive that classification is that of Guillermo Cano.




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