Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa - FLIP

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Monday, 21 October 2013 03:00

Journalists and researchers forced to leave Colombia after repeated death threats

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On 16 October 2013, journalist Gonzalo Guillén decided to leave Colombia because of death threats he received. Guillén was one of four people who were the targets of a plan to kill a group of journalists and researchers over investigations they had done. 

On 13 May 2013 information about the plan was made public by the director of the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) when he tweeted: 

"The UNP has received sensitive, detailed information about a plan to kill three people we are protecting. They are León Valencia, Gonzalo Guillén and Ariel Ávila. The three have very strong protection plans that have been reinforced. We have informed the national police and the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police and Intelligence (Dirección Central de Policía Judicial e Inteligencia, DIJIN) is investigating. We will not allow these plans to be carried out. The presumed killer is known as 'Morroncho' and is in Bogotá. We know his real name and have shared it with the DIJIN." 

Since then, the journalists had to leave the country temporarily. In the five months since the first threats, investigations have not yet uncovered who was responsible for the threat against them. 

In addition to this, more recent threats against the group have come to light, which has led them to go into exile again. 

The group being targeted is made up of journalists Gonzalo Guillén and León Valencia, researcher Ariel Ávila, and most recently the columnist and researcher Claudia López, who wrote about the capture of La Guajira governor Francisco 'Kiko' Gómez, on 12 October. Gómez had been named by journalists as being linked to these threats. The reason for his arrest, however, is not connected to the journalists and researchers. 

FLIP calls on the office of the public prosecutor to advance investigations, so that those responsible for the threats against Gonzalo Guillén, León Valencia, Claudia López and Ariel Ávila can be identified. 

In the days before Guillén left the country, the UNP said that a legal order regulating the body stopped it from authorising protective measures for the journalist. Although the body reinforced Guillén's protection scheme in Colombia, it was not able to support his exit from the country. FLIP emphasises the support of the UNP since May 2013, but suggests that the government make changes to their regulations to prevent this situation from recurring in the future. The imminence of the risk to this journalist is not being served by the current UNP process. 

Lastly, FLIP reiterates that the self-imposed exile of these journalists not only affects the state of free expression, but also weakens the ability of the media to report nationwide. 

Translated by IFEX.