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Death threats, harassment of two journalists by paramilitary-linked politicians and military in Magangué and Montería

(CESO-IFJ/IFEX) - After journalist Alexander Guerrero videotaped the removal of computers, printers and furniture from city hall by men sent by Jorge Luis Alfonso López, who until that day was the mayor of the town of Magangué, Guerrero was stopped on the street and threatened with murder. Meanwhile, in Montería, another city a few kilometres from Magangué, journalist Clodomiro Castilla has again been victimised for his ongoing reporting of acts of corruption by regional politicians linked to paramilitary groups.

Guerrero took up his camera on 31 December 2007 after receiving a call from Anuar Arana Gechem, the newly-elected mayor who was to take office the following day, and who had named Guerrero his press chief. Arana Gechem asked him to video tape the unusual removal of items from what was going to be his office. Little did Guerrero realise that his life was about to change, due to the intolerance that has left hundreds dead in the region.

Guerrero arrived to the town hall and was insulted by one of the ex-mayor's supporters. He taped the removal of items and furniture from the offices, and immediately sent the footage to two national television networks - Caracol and RCN - which broadcast it across the country on their news programmes.

Two days later, on 2 January 2008, at 11:30 a.m. (local time), Guerrero was stopped on the street near the home of Arana Gechem by a supporter of the ex-mayor who insulted him and threatened to kill him. After that incident, two motorcycles were parked all afternoon and part of the night in front of his home. Given increasingly repeated rumours that he was to be murdered on 18 January, he fled Magangué on 15 January.

Ex-mayor López is the son a controversial owner of a chain of lotteries, Enilce López, known at "La Gata", who is currently in jail for money laundering and has been publicly questioned about her links to extreme right-wing paramilitary groups. Ex-mayor López's own reputation is not unblemished; he took a two-month vacation while still mayor when he realised that the Technical Investigations Division of the Office of the Prosecutor (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación de la Fiscalía) was about to move against him.

Meanwhile, in nearby Montería, capital of Córdoba department, journalist Clodomiro Castilla has been the victim of dozens of acts of aggression since May 2005, when Manuel Troncoso - Secretary of Health for the Córdoba Department - threatened to murder him, according to a complaint filed by Castilla with Section 13 of the Office of the Prosecutor, in Montería. Troncoso is the brother-in-law of the now-demobilized paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso. The journalist had reported critically on the investment of 825 million pesos (approx. US$417,000) in a dog and cat census in Córdoba, one of Colombia's poorest departments; then-governor Libardo López Cabrales was involved in the census.

On 6 December 2006, Castilla filed a complaint with the division director of prosecutors' offices in Córdoba against Maria Cristina Ghisays Martínez, then press chief of the Córdoba governor's department, for charging a 30 percent commission for awarding a government publicity contract (see IFEX alert of 5 December 2006). Castilla also criticised Pedro Ghisays Chadid, father of the former press chief, as being a partner of paramilitary chief Mancuso.

On 26 December 2007, Castilla filed a complaint with the Córdoba headquarters of the national police to the effect that Colonel Mauricio Antonio Medina Guatibonza had ordered the journalist's murder.

While continuing to do his work as a journalist, Castilla has been subjected to threats and other acts of aggression: the cutting of the radio station's electricity when it is broadcasting his programme, telephoned threats, the destruction of the windows of his residence, the making of holes in the walls of his home, and the burning, live, of one of his dogs.

Eduardo Márquez, President of the Colombian Federation of Journalists (Federación Colombiana de Periodistas, FECOLPER) and also executive director of IFJ's Solidarity Centre in Colombia (CESO-IFJ) condemned the threats and harassment of both journalists.

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