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Journalists attacked by bodyguard in Granada, ex-senator in Bucaramanga and congressman in Cartago

(IFJ/IFEX) - In three separate incidents, journalists in Granada, Bucaramanga and Cartago were physically or verbally attacked recently by politicians or individuals working for them.

On 22 October 2007, Abel Zabala Vargas, editor of "el Ariarense" newspaper, was assaulted by Darwin Piñeros, bodyguard for William Reinoso, mayor of Granada, a town in Meta department, to prevent the journalist from videotaping the mayor in the company of mayoralty candidate Edilto Triana, while they were apparently purchasing cement. During the assault, which occurred at during regular working hours, at 9:30 a.m. (local time), Mayor Reinoso shouted vulgarities at the journalist. The journalist, who was left with a deep scratch on the neck, was forced to take refuge in a store, from which the bodyguard, who did not allow him to leave, warning him, "You don't know what's going to happen to you, you S.O.B." Eventually, the police arrived. However, contrary to what one would expect in a state of law, the police did not apprehend the assailant, but instead tried to take the journalist's camera from him. Zabala Vargas resisted and prevented them from taking him to the police station. Meta is a department in central Colombia, southeast of the capital, Bogotá.

In an open letter, Zabala Vargas commented, "As a journalist, I wish to inform the authorities that I have no personal enemies; therefore, if anything should happen to me or my family members, the only individuals to be held responsible are Mayor William Reinoso and police officer Darwin Moreno (. . .) The same goes for the police, who did not allow me to continue filming (. . .) the mayor participating in politics, at public expense".

In an earlier, separate development, Luis Alberto Gil Castillo, former senator for the department of Santander, prevented journalist Pastor Viviescas Gómez from carrying out his work on 18 October 2007 in the city of Bucaramanga, capital of the department. Gil Castillo had been named the week prior in the Congress as one of the individuals to be summoned to testify before the Supreme Court regarding alleged ties between politicians and paramilitary groups. Colombian politicians' ties of this nature are currently the focus of intense public debate.

Gil Castillo called out, "Bandit! Police! Sharpshooter!" as Viviescas Gómez was taking photographs of the former senator, who is a member of the Convergencia Ciudadana party, during a march supporting Governor Hujo Heliodoro Aguilar. He then raised his right hand to prevent further photographs from being taken. Viviescas Gómez responded, "You're confusing me with someone else; I'm a journalist." However, Gil Castillo, accompanied by four bodyguards, continued shouting, "Police! You're a sharpshooter! You tell lies!" The journalist proposed that Gil Castillo give him an interview, during which the former senator would have a chance to repeat his allegations that the journalist tells lies about him, and to comment on them, but Gil Castillo continued walking among his supporters, kept from view by his bodyguards.

Viviescas Gómez is the editor-in-chief of "Periódico 15" newspaper, Communications Direct for the Autonomous University of Bucaramanga (UNAB), and a collaborator of the newspapers "Al Día", based in San José, Costa Rica, and "El Espectador", based in Bogotá, for which he is the international editor and in charge of the "Topic of the Day" section. One of his published pieces, a 2006 interview with the then-senator Gil Castillo entitled "3,000 lunches for how many votes," received the Simón Bolivar National Prize for best interview.

In another separate disturbing development, on 22 October Luis Carlos Restrepo Orozco, a representative to the Congress's Chamber of Representatives, stated on a Radio Successo news programme, broadcast by the RCN radio network's Radio Robledo station, that all of the journalists in the town of Cartago had been friends of the late Ariel Rodríguez, identified by the authorities as a drug trafficker.

The Cartago journalists' association (El Círculo de Periodistas de Cartago) and the Colombian Federation of Journalists (Federación Colombiana de Periodistas, FECOLPER) both immediately condemned the allegation, saying it stigmatised all Cartago journalists, pillorying the entire body despite the concerted efforts many of them have made to resist the pernicious influence of drug traffickers, who have been responsible for a number of cases of government corruption (. . .).

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