International Press Freedom Awards

2002 Awardee: Ignacio Gomez


Colombia: IGNACIO GÓMEZ



Colombia is a country of terrible secrets,
none of which are safe from Ignacio Gómez. In almost two decades as an investigative reporter, Gómez has exposed alliances between drug lords and politicians, foreign mercenaries operating in Colombia, corrupt soccer teams, and the role of the Colombian military and paramilitary forces in many notorious massacres.

The 40-year-old Gómez, known to his friends as Nacho, got his start in journalism in 1986 as a reporter for the venerable Bogotá daily El Espectador. He remembers how honored he felt to meet the newspaper's editor, Guillermo Cano. A few weeks later, Cano, who had crusaded against drug trafficking in Colombia, was killed on the orders of drug lord Pablo Escobar.

The Cano murder deeply affected Gómez and inspired the twin passions of his career: Uncovering the truth regardless of the consequences and working to defend the rights of Colombian journalists confronting threats and danger. According to CPJ's records, 29 Colombian journalists have been killed during the last decade, making Colombia one of the world's most dangerous countries to practice journalism. In 1996, Gómez helped establish a Colombian press freedom organization, La Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), and served as its executive director until 2001.

Gómez himself has been forced into exile twice--once in 1989 and again in 2000 after he published a report linking paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño to a 1997 massacre in the village of Mapiripán. A few months after that story was published, Gómez was nearly abducted while he was entering a taxi in Bogotá. The next day, Gómez's colleague Jineth Bedoya was kidnapped and brutalized by men who told her they planned to cut Gómez into tiny pieces.

Gómez spent a year in exile as a Neiman fellow at Harvard University and returned to Colombia last year to take on a new assignment as director of investigations for a public affairs television show called "Noticias Uno." He quickly found himself in hot water after reporting on links between then-presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe Vélez and the Medellín drug cartel. After the report aired, Gómez, news director Daniel Coronell, and Coronell's 3-year-old daughter received numerous death threats. An angry Uribe railed that "a free press is one thing, and a press at the service of ... shady deals is something else."

In a country that has become increasingly inured to death, Gómez says he has fought hard not to succumb to cynicism. In 1989, after covering 36 separate massacres and viewing countless cadavers, Gómez was so distraught that the newspaper asked him to take some time off. "I had to learn to recover my sense of outrage," he recalls. "It's something I can never afford to lose."

END

2015
Cándido Figueredo Ruíz (Paraguay), Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (Syria), Zone 9 Bloggers (Ethiopia), Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque,“Zunar” (Malaysia)

2014
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2013
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2012
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2011
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2010
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2009
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2008
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2007
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2006
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2005
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2004
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2003
Abdul Samay Hamed (Afghanistan), Aboubakr Jamai (Morocco), Musa Muradov (Russia), Manuel Vázquez Portal (Cuba)

2002
Ignacio Gómez (Colombia), Tipu Sultan (Bangladesh), Irina Petrushova (Kazakhstan), Fesshaye Yohannes (Eritrea)

2001
Jiang Weiping (China), Geoff Nyarota (Zimbabwe), Horacio Verbitsky (Argentina), Mazen Dana (West Bank)

2000
Zeljko Kopanja (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Modeste Mutinga (DRC), Steven Gan (Malaysia), Mashallah Shamsolvaezin (Iran)

1999
Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández (Cuba), Baton Haxhiu (Kosovo), Jugnu Mohsin and Najam Sethi (Pakistan), María Cristina Caballero (Columbia)

1998
Grémah Boucar (Niger), Gustavo Gorriti (Panama), Pavel Sheremet (Belarus), Ruth Simon (Eritrea)

1997
Viktor Ivancic (Croatia), Freedom Neruda (Ivory Coast), Christine Anyanwu (Nigeria). Ying Chan (United States) and Shieh Chung-Liang (Taiwan)

1996
Ocak Isik Yurtçu (Turkey), Daoud Kuttab (Palestinian Authority), J. Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico), Yusuf Jameel (India)