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Woman photographer clubbed by police in Bogotá; journalists abused during student marches in Ibagué, Medellín and Manizales

(FLIP/IFEX) - Journalists, photographers and video camera operators in the cities of Ibagué, Manizales and Bogotá were recently the victims of various acts of aggression perpetrated by students at several public universities or by the police. The incidents occurred during demonstrations against government economic measures considered damaging by some segments of the population, and against the free trade agreement with the United States.

"El Nuevo Día" crew mistreated in Ibagué

"El Nuevo Día" newspaper's correpondent in Ibagué, Adriana Montealegre, and the newspaper's photographer, Helmer Parra, were obliged by University of Tolima students to erase photographs of an assembly in which students, Tolima department Governor Fernado Osorio Cuenca and the university rector Jesús Ramón Rivera participated, aimed at ending the students' three-week-long boycott of classes. The incident occurred on 12 June 2007 in Tolima's capital, Ibagué, at the university. The journalist and another of the newspaper's photographers had covered 8 June demonstrations by the students, professors and parents. It appears the information published offended the demonstrators, who therefore objected to the "El Nuevo Día" team's presence at the 12 June assembly. In the middle of the meeting, some of the students loudly harangued the crew, who then withdrew from the auditorium. As the crew was leaving, students insulted and threatened the crew, until the photographer showed and erased the photographs he had taken of the assembly.

On 13 June, a group of about 300 demonstrators from the same university went to the newspaper's office and demanded that the managers allow them a full page to express what they thought of what had happened in the last demonstrations. The demonstrators threw stones at the building and painted graffiti on its walls. Anti-riot police units broke up the protest.

Photographer threatened by demonstrators in Medellín

In Medellín, according to several journalists' comments to FLIP, two or three masked demonstrators chased away photographers from several local and national media outlets, thereby preventing them from taking any photographs of the student protests at the public universities.

Correspondent for "CM&" news programme assaulted in Manizales

On the morning of 8 June, Juan Alberto Giraldo - a journalist for both Telecafe television station and "CM&" news programme in the city of Manizales - was injured during a confrontation near Parque Olaya between the police and students from the city's public universities. Giraldo was struck on the head by several rocks while in the midst of the protest. Giraldo told FLIP that the rocks were thrown by some of the students participating in the scuffle, but were not aimed at him. In recent protests in Manizales, an atmosphere of hostility toward journalists has been perceived, although there have not been any acts of aggression against them.

Women photographer assaulted by state agent in Bogotá

In another incident, on 20 May "Cambio" magazine photographer Johana Toro was assaulted by an officer from the police's anti-riot squad (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios de la Policía, Esmad) after she took some photographs of their aggression toward one of the demonstrators, in central Bogotá. The agent clubbed her with a billystick, also causing 1,800,000 pesos' (approx. US$930) worth of damages to her camera.

FLIP urges all segments of society to respect journalists' and media outlets' work covering these kinds of event. Demonstrations by students and professors are vital in a democratic society and constitute a way of exercising freedom of expression, but violent acts and encouraging others to engage in violence fall outside of this right. FLIP also calls on the authorities to guarantee journalists can perform their work, as well as respecting that right themselves.

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