Colombia: Union documents sharp deterioration of journalists' human rights

The Colombian Federation of Journalists (FECOLPER) has exposed a sharply worsening human rights situation for journalists, a crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a new report, Journalists in a pandemic - the virus of indifference published on 9 February, the union documents increasing cases of journalists being regularly threatened by violence, intimidation, illegal interceptions and judicial harassment.

Fecolper denounced the human rights crisis in Colombia, noting that at the time of publication, there had already been 12 mass killings costing 39 lives in 2021. 91 massacres were reported during 2020, which left 381 dead throughout the country. The homicide rate for social leaders is close to one murder per day (310 killings in 2020).

The situation of Colombian media workers is not so different. "There's an evident regression in the causes of violence against journalists; they are spied on in the traditional way and they're harassed on social media. Nor do they stop the stigmatization messages made by political leaders who accuse journalists of spreading misinformation, damaging democracy and polarizing society. At the same time, there are journalists who contribute to this stigmatization”, according to Adriana Hurtado, president of Fecolper.

In 2020, the most frequent aggressions against journalists were threats, physical attacks, smear campaigns, legal actions faimed at censoring journalistic work, killings, illegal espionage and journalists forced in to exile. Among the perpetrators, there are groups of power that operate both from governmental bodies and among illegal groups.

A situation worsened by the pandemic

The health crisis caused by COVID-19 exposed journalists to a health risk but also to several violations of their social, economic and labour rights. A survey made by Fecolper revealed that:

- Over 30% of respondents were paid, due to the pandemic, less than the legal minimum wage

18% were unemployed (data until August 2020)

- 16% said the media where they worked closed

- 19% of the interviewees said there was a decline in their working conditions

66% of the respondents said they had suffered health problems such as stress, anxiety, exhaustion and muscle pain, sleeping disorders and depression due to the economic crisis unleashed during the pandemic. As a direct consequence of the virus, 112 journalists and media workers were reported as infected by the virus and 36 of them died.

According to Fecolper, Colombia is facing a press freedom crisis and a serious loss of the people's right to freedom of expression and information.

This situation is fueled by different factors, such as the lack of labour protection for journalists, their socio-economic weakness, the indifference or social ignorance on the role of journalists in the construction of democracy, the loss of the rule of law and the impunity and slowness of justice when investigating cases of crimes against journalists.

Fecolper claims that "what happens to journalists is an expression of what is happening in the country in terms of human rights and failures of social justice."

The report was presented to the public on February 11.

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