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Journalist brutally assaulted while covering political event in Barranquilla

(FLIP/IPYS/IFEX) - On 4 July 2007, journalist Javier Manjarrés, director of Emisoras Unidas radio station's news programme "Actualidad", was assaulted by supporters of the political party Polo Democrático Alternativo (PDA) at the end of a press conference held by the party's president, Carlos Gaviria Díaz. The incident took place at 11:00 a.m. (local time) at the El Prado hotel, in the city of Barranqilla, northern Colombia.

The journalist told FLIP that during the press conference he asked Gaviria about allegations of corruption levelled against PDA member Bernardo Hoyos, former mayor of Barranquilla.

Apparently, this question offended several of the party's supporters, who approached Manjarrés as he left the scene and insulted him for "discrediting" the PDA with his questions before its top leader, Carlos Gaviria. Suddenly, several of them started hitting him. The journalist fell to the floor and lost consciousness for several minutes, after being hit in the face, the head and one of his arms. According to the forensic medicine institute (Instituto de Medicina Legal) report, the beating warranted him being placed on medical leave for 11 days. "If they had been armed, they would have killed me. The assault was brutal," commented Manjarrés.

"El Heraldo" newspaper photographer Jairo Buitrago, who was with Manjarrés when the beating took place, stated that during the press conference many journalists were heckled because of their questions, especially those pertaining to former mayor Hoyos.

PDA pre-candidates for the mayor's office and the regional government, Máximo Noriega and Alfonso Camerano, apologised to the press for the incident and urged Manjarrés to file criminal charges against his assailants.

This is the first recorded violation of press freedom in relation to the coverage of the 2007 electoral period in Colombia. FLIP and IPYS appeal to the political parties and their candidates to respect journalists' work during election time. They also remind them that journalism's function during this time is fundamental if the public is to have sufficient information to appropriately exercise its right to vote. Press conferences during election times are open and pluralistic spaces where no topic can be vetoed, not simple acts of propaganda.

FLIP and IPYS appeal to journalists and the media to report these incidents promptly to the competent authorities for their investigation.

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