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Government tries to suspend security measures for journalist despite recent murder contract and paramilitary threats

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF is concerned about the continuing threats to Claudia Julieta Duque, a UNICEF consultant and correspondent of Radio Nizkor (a station operated by the human rights group Equipo Nizkor), and about government doubts as to whether she should continue to receive special protection.

On 29 August 2007, the Committee for Risk Evaluation and Management (Comité de Evaluación y Reglamentación de Riesgos, CRER) - a body operating under the interior ministry - suspended the protection she had been getting since 2003. However, an administrative court in Cundinamarca then ordered the reinstatement of protective measures on 18 October, and she was reassigned a bodyguard and armour-plated car six days later.

There is continuing disagreement as to the degree of danger Duque is in; she is supposed to discuss this with the authorities on 8 November.

"As a human rights specialist, Duque is by definition a journalist who is exposed to a very high level of danger and this has been so for nearly 10 years," RSF said. "Her case is well-known. It is normal that a risk evaluation should determine whether a journalist gets protection but no one could dispute the need for Duque to get protection commensurate with the risks she is running."

RSF added: "For these reasons, and in the light of the latest threats she has received, we call on the interior ministry to apply all the measures appropriate to 'maximum risk.' We also call for a thorough investigation into the origin of these threats and for Duque to be allowed to see the reports which her lawyers believe the intelligence agencies have written about her and which may jeopardize her ability to work as a human rights activist."

Duque began being harassed when she took an interest in the irregularities in the investigation into the August 1999 murder of journalist and comedian Jaime Garzón. After she voiced her suspicion that the domestic intelligence agency DAS had tampered with the evidence, former DAS deputy director Emiro Rojas Granados filed a complaint accusing her of defamation and insulting comments.

Threatened and the victim of abduction and robbery, which she believes were attempts by the state security services to intimidate her, Duque was twice forced to leave the country. After being declared in a situation of "maximum risk", she began to benefit from a programme for the protection of journalists in December 2003.

The threats against Duque and her 13-year-old daughter resumed after her return to Colombia in February 2006. In March 2007, she was warned that a murder contract had been put out on her. In July, e-mail threats signed by the "Aguilas Negras" paramilitary group were sent to Equipo Nizkor.

Duque wrote to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights special rapporteur for freedom of expression about her plight on 25 October, asking him to intercede with the DAS and the interior minister. In this letter, a copy of which has been received by RSF, Duque stressed the recent signs of deterioration in press freedom in Colombia including the forced exile of several journalists.

Relations between the media and President Alvaro Uribe also continue to be tense. In October alone, Uribe verbally attacked three journalists who are the targets of threats - Gonzálo Guillén, the Colombia correspondent of the Miami-based "El Nuevo Herald" newspaper, who has had to leave the country, Daniel Coronell, news editor of the state-owned television station Canal Uno and columnist for the weekly magazine "Semana", and Carlos Lozano, the editor of the weekly newspaper "Voz", who was attacked by Uribe for the second time this year on 26 October.

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