February 5, 2009
Álvaro Uribe Vélez
President of the
Casa de Nariño
Bogotá D.C., Colombia
Via facsimile: 011-571-337-5890
Dear Mr. President:
We write to object to the accusations that you and other
high-ranking members of your government made this week linking Colombian
After the FARC released four hostages to a humanitarian mission led by the International Red Cross on Sunday, reports in the Colombian and international press said that Morris, producer of the weekly investigative program "Contravía" for the television network Canal Uno and correspondent for the Paris-based Radio France Internationale, had been detained by the Colombian army following his coverage of the rescue operation.
Morris told the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human
Rights Watch that he had not planned to be present at the rescue operation. Rather,
he said, he had traveled to southeastern
Morris said that he met the three police officers and the soldier before they were released. However, according to Morris, once he realized that their answers had been coerced, he decided to only ask their names and their time in captivity. Morris told CPJ that he has not aired the footage, and that he would not publish hostage testimonies scripted by the FARC.
On Tuesday, the four hostages sent letters to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and to RFI saying that the FARC had coerced the statements they gave to Morris by threatening to kill them or keep them in captivity, according to Colombian news reports.
After the hostages were handed over to the humanitarian
mission, Morris and the other two journalists were stopped at a military
checkpoint near the town of
Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón issued a statement
saying that the hostages had been forced to give Morris interviews.
Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos also stated on national radio that Morris was "close to the guerrillas."
On Tuesday, Attorney General Mario Iguarán announced that at the request of your government and the National Police, his office would open a criminal investigation of Morris for alleged ties to terrorism, according to local press reports. We are aware of no evidence linking Morris to the FARC, and call on your government to publicly explain the foundations for this inquiry, or dismiss it all together.
At a press conference the same day, you accused Morris of "[hiding] behind his journalism to become a permissive accomplice of terrorism." Morris said his reporting was completely independent of the FARC and your government.
You have publicly stated that while your administration does not like media outlets interviewing guerilla and paramilitary fighters, the government respects their right to do so. During a March 2006 meeting with a CPJ delegation, you emphasized that any official who interferes with the work of the press, "is committing a crime, and this is extremely grave." Colombian journalists have the right to report freely on the decades-long internal armed conflict in your country.
The recent barrage of accusations that you and senior
members of your administration have launched against Morris undermines your
commitment to freedom of expression. Official comments linking journalists
to any actor in
We thank you for your attention on this urgent matter. We await for your response.
Joel Simon, CPJ Executive Director
José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director,