The International Federation of Journalists today called on the Colombian Government to provide an immediate and acceptable level of protection to 16 journalists in Arauca who have received death threats from both guerrilla and paramilitary groups. The IFJ is seriously concerned with their safety, in view of the assassinations of three journalists in Colombia this year. The most recent case is radio journalist Emeterio Rivas who was shot to death by unidentified gunmen on 7 April in Barrancabermeja, north of Bogotá.
"The danger these journalists are faced with is unacceptable," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "The IFJ demands that these journalists are provided with immediate protection by the Columbian government, and that the government take the necessary measures to force the illegal armed groups to stop declaring journalists as targets."
The 16 journalists appeared on two separate lists as assassination targets. Eight appeared on a list from the leftist guerrilla army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) another 10 journalists appeared on a list by the right-wing paramilitary group AUC. Two journalists on the AUC list have already been assassinated despite one of them being under police protection. The lists were sent to one of the targeted journalists.
As soon as the lists were received, the journalists approached the local authorities for protection, but were told that the local police lacked the necessary resources to offer them protection. The journalists were encouraged to go to Bogotà where they met with the Colombian Vice-President. The group were offered protective clothing and temporary safeguards. However the journalists feel that this only a temporary measure and will not provide them with any real protection.
The region of Arauca has been under dispute by the both sides of the armed conflict and was declared a special rehabilitation area by the Colombian Government in 2002. The 16 journalists have been reporting on human rights abuses committed by all sides of the conflict, including the Colombian Army and have become targets in the process.
"These journalists must be able to continue their vital work reporting on the conflict in Arauca. There can be no press freedom when journalists are forced to exist in conditions of fear," said White.
The journalists threatened are: Carmen Rosa Pabón, Lizneira Roncancio, Yineth Pinilla, Hernán Morales, Henry Colmenares, William Reyes, José Antonio Zocadaguí, Carlos Pérez, Emiro Goyeneche, Rodrigo Avila, Narda Guerrero, Angel María León, Miguel Angel Rojas, Zorayda Ariza, Luis Guedes.
Colombia is one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. The IFJ is investigating five deaths among journalists and media workers during the previous year, and in 2003, at least three journalists have been killed. Besides Emeterio Rivas they are Oscar Salazar Jaramillo, the owner and manager of Radio Sevilla, who was found stabbed to death in his home in Sevilla on March 10, and Luis Eduardo Alfonso Parada, a journalist for the daily newspaper El Tiempo, who was killed by unknown gunmen while leaving his house for work on March 18.