Two journalists murdered
(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Attorney General Alfonso Gomez Méndez, Robert Ménard, RSF's secretary-general, "expressed his profound anger over the assassination of Luis Alberto Rincon and Alberto Sánchez Tovar" on Sunday 28 November 1999. Ménard asked the attorney general to "assign the investigation to the Human Rights Department that is under his administration," and "to keep him informed of any developments in the investigation."
Furthermore, RSF reiterates its "request for information concerning the development of the investigation into the assassination of Jaime Garzon, Guzmán Quintero Torres and Rodolfo Julio Torres," three journalists who were killed on 13 August, 16 September and 21 October, respectively. To conclude, RSF asked the attorney general "to use his influence with President Andrés Pastrana to ensure that a programme protecting threatened journalists be installed as soon as possible, as was promised on 5 May." (See IFEX alerts of 13 August, 23 June and 7 May 1999.)
On 28 November, at 9:00 a.m. (local time), the bodies of freelance journalists Alberto Rincon and Sánchez Tovar were found five kilometers from the city of El Playon, Santander department. Both journalists were shot at point-blank range. Alberto Sánchez Tovar was shot twice in the head and Luis Rincon was shot once in the temple. Cartridges for a nine millimetre pistol were found at the scene of the crime.
According to the wife of Sánchez Tovar, he left his house "at about six in the morning". The two men were heading to El Playon to cover the municipal elections at the request of José Jaimes Caballeros, one of the candidates. Sánchez Tovar was the director of his own production company, Producciones de Colombia Ltd. He had hired freelance cameraman Alberto Rincon, who had worked for the production company Comuneros Television two years earlier, and also for Teleoriente. The journalists' photographic and video cameras were stolen by their murderers. Police suspect that the criminals were attempting to disguise the murder as a theft. Investigators suspect the paramilitary Colombian United Self Defense Forces (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), who are fighting against guerilla groups for control of the region.
RSF recalls that three other journalists have been assassinated in 1999. Jaime Garzon, journalist and comedian with Radionet and Caracol Television, was shot on 13 August when he arrived at the radio station. The journalist was known for his paticipation in the peace negotiations, with the intent of establishing a dialogue between the authorities and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberacion Nacional, ELN). Certain observers suspect that ELN's "extremists", who were opposed to the peace plan, especially those in the intelligence service, are implicated in this murder. One month later, on 16 September, Guzmán Quintero Torres, editor-in-chief of the local newspaper "El Pilon", was murdered in a bar in Valledupar, Cesar department, in the presence of his colleagues. Despite the 30 September arrest of suspected perpetrators, Jorge Eliecer Espinal Velásquez and Rodolfo Nelson Rosado Martínez, nothing is known about the motives for the crime. Finally, 21 October, the body of Rodolfo Julio Torres, a correspondent with the radio programme Sincelejo on the Fuentes station, was found in the Caribbean city of Cartagena. He was shot three times in the head, hours after being kidnapped from his home by a group of four men. (For information on the Garzon, Quintero Torres and Julio Torres cases see IFEX alerts of 25 October, 24 September, 22 September, 17 September, 16 August, 13 August 1999 and 14 November 1997.) A year earlier, anonymous pamphlets attributed to AUC were distributed throughout the province. These pamphlets accused the journalists of being linked to the ELN. A total of fifty-two journalists have been assassinated in Colombia since 1989.