“I am calling for international solidarity for the situation of press freedom in Colombia. Madness is happening here”, said IFJ Center of Solidarity (CESO FIP) Director, Eduardo Marquez. “We were working on an alert regarding a crime against a journalist in Bogotá when a phone call asking for help was received from a colleague in Monteria. Armed men wanted to kill him that very moment (see Note 1). Ten minutes after, journalists from Santa Marta called to report another colleague was fleeing from threats made by a new paramilitary group (see Note 2). A few hours before, this office was informed of threats against four journalists in the department of Sucre (see final Note). “The hostility against journalists must stop now; the democratic system is at stake.”
Yesterday, in the municipality of La Plata, Huila, southern Colombia, senior journalist Marino Pérez Murcia was buried. Marino was killed last Sunday in Bogotá, under unknown circumstances. The colleague, 58, was shot in the head and abandoned in a dark street where his body was found minutes after by habitants of Galerías neighborhood.
Pérez Murcia, correspondent for Radio Habana, was also a sporadic collaborator for Le Monde daily and worked on news reports for a German television channel. He had worked as correspondent for Colombian radio networks Caracol and Todelar and covered the Persian Gulf War.
During a brief political intervention, Pérez ran for mayor of his hometown, La Plata. When he was young, he stowed away to the United States where thanks to his great persistence he obtained a hearing with Senator Edward Kennedy and became his personal assistant.
According to statements made by his nephew and journalist Harold Pérez to Todelar, the murdered colleague was making advances and contacts for the release of three North American military advisors abducted by FARC guerrilla on February 2003, when their aircraft was gunned down in the Amazon department of Caquetá. “He was focused on getting an exclusive interview with guerrilla commander Simón Trinidad, imprisoned in the United States and used some contacts he had in the FBI to get it”, they explained.
José Dario Pérez, the journalist’s brother said the motive for the murder is unclear, Marino’s belongings were found and a possible robbery was ruled out.
“Every time a journalist is killed, our fragile democracy not only loses a voice but also its legitimacy” said Márquez. “Marino Pérez is the fifth journalist killed in Colombia this year and authorities have not provided serious demonstrations of their willingness to solve these crimes.”
CESO FIP Director recalled since 1989, more than one hundred thirty colleagues have fallen victims of intolerance. Most murders cases have occurred due to journalists’ professional activities and in only four cases the material authors of the crimes have been captured. “This monstrous impunity has turned the murders of those who inform society into something “normal” and this is the greatest encouragement for criminals. And if we also consider the infamous contractual conditions and constant threats suffered by journalists in the Atlantic coast from the corrupt and the paramilitaries, to speak about press freedom in Colombia is quiet an accomplishment”, he concluded.
Note 1: When this alert was being elaborated, journalist Clodomiro Segundo Castilla from the city of Montería, Córdoba, informed CESO FIP director several armed men were trying to break into his residence. The city police was alerted but refused to arrive to the journalist’s home where the alleged criminals were present. The colleague has received numerous phone call threats, he has been watched and followed, and rocks were thrown at his house as a result of a corruption case first exposed on Radio Panzenú and after broadcasted on la Voz de Montería – with journalists Rafael Gómez and Adolfo Berrocal, about a health fund abuse of $21.000 billion pesos (almost 10 million USD). Last year, Clodomiro informed he was threatened to death by the Health Secretary who is known to be related to a paramilitary leader. Castilla, along with colleagues from Radio Montería, have experienced power cuts while his program Bloque Informativo, is on the air. CESO FIP director confirmed this situation when he visited the city in the beginning of October to support the establishment of the Cordobesa Association of Journalists.
Note 2: While the previous note was written, journalists from the city of Santa Marta, Magdalena, called Ceso-FIP to report José Ponce Obispo, Radio Galeón director, had been forced to flee his home once he was informed by a trustworthy source of information, his death had been ordered by the head of a new paramilitary group known as ‘The Black Eagles’. The journalist had received threatening phone calls in the past few days.
Intimidation attempt against journalists in Sucre
During the past months, while ties between well known politicians and congressmen of the Atlantic coast and paramilitary groups are evidenced, threats against journalists in the region have increased. Phone calls, text messages, personal threats and mortuary messages are the price brave reporters must pay to do their job.
Robinson Ruz Ruz, worked as a guest journalist for Radio Piragua and advisor for Sucre senator, Antonio Guerra De la Espriella. Robinson received at the radio station an envelope with his name on it and a mortuary message inside last Tuesday. He recently won a regional journalism award for informative work on links between paramilitaries and politicians.
A few months ago, Telecaribe cameraman Humberto Porto was assaulted by two councilors from Sincelejo. The politicians accused him of filming council material to hand it over to the guerrilla. The photojournalist turned his camera on when the incident occurred and presented the video to the authorities. One of the councilors, José David González, was captured last Monday and charged with concert to break the law in the creation of paramilitary groups. The journalist has been approached on several occasions by unidentified men who have tried to pressure him to drop his accusations.
Marlyn Vieira Mercado, Radio Piragua reporter, was repeatedly tracked down by two unknown men on a motorcycle with no license plates last October 24. On the other hand, journalist Olga Bru of El Meridiano of Sucre, in charge of covering stories of the municipality of Sincelejo, received threatening phone calls and was insulted for her behavior of the last couple of days. She was warned about the consequences she would later regret. This occurred after a series of reports regarding local administration irregularities were disclosed.
The following is a statement made by CESO FIP director to a regional media organization today:
“On behalf of over 500,000 journalists from 120 countries affiliated to the International Federation of Journalists, I wish to express solidarity to our colleagues in Sucre. We are aware of the suffering they are experiencing due to intolerant individuals who through violence and corruption have made the department one of the poorest regions of the continent without a future. We will do whatever is at reach to make sure the Colombian government carries out its role and guarantees a free and unhindered exercise of journalism. We will present recent cases of threats before authorities and international tribunals of justice. Unfortunately, many of our courts do not escape the hazardous influence of those who have deserved newspaper headlines for their massacres of poor citizens, selective murders of opposition, forced displacement, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, stolen public funds, electoral offenses, blackmail, threats…”
Behind the storm unleashed by the link between politicians and illegal armed groups, lies the work of journalists of flesh and bone who risk their lives to inform the public. It is true we have made mistakes on several occasions but what would happen to a region or a country with no journalists? Would they be victims to rumors and abuses of the powerful? If there are no journalists, who will ask the questions? If there are no journalists, who will disclose arbitrariness?
We are the guarantee of a citizen’s right to be well informed. Therefore, a threat against a journalist is a threat against society. We hope all good willed habitants of Sucre understand this.”
Center of Solidarity