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Radio journalist receives death threat in Villavicencio following critical coverage of municipal contract

(CESO-IFJ/IFEX) - Prominent journalist Humberto Bedoya Henao - director of "Hechos y Opiniones", Ondas de Meta radio station's morning news programme - received death threats on the morning of 22 January 2007 from an individual who, after using course language to attack the journalist, invited him to his own funeral, assuring him that he was going to murder him. The station is based in Villavicencio, the capital of Meta department in southern Colombia.

The threatening call came only hours after Bedoya Henao reported on a contract awarded by the Villavicencio municipal government to contractor Leonardo Pérez for 4,000,000,000 pesos (approx. US$2.033 million).

Bedoya Henao questioned the advisability of awarding the contract to Pérez given that during a 2007 visit of former anti-corruption "czar" Rodrigo Lara Restrepo to Meta, it came to public light that Pérez had not fulfilled the terms of other contracts; for example, those for a water park and for the building of bathrooms in two public schools. Those public works had been built through a series of irregular contracts where Pérez figured as an "interventor" - a supposedly neutral comptroller responsible for protecting the public interest - rather than as the builder.

This is not the first time Bedoya has been threatened for reporting on irregularities. In October 2007 he received several threatening calls after he made public the criminal record of a candidate for the Villavicencio city council running on behalf of the "U" party (Partido de la U). That party was created to work for the reelection of President Álvaro Uribe. It was initially led by current Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who is a partner in El Tiempo media conglomerate and first cousin of Francisco Santos, the current Vice-President. The October threats were made through a person close to the candidate, who told Bedoya Henao: "Stop screwing him around. Don't keep bugging him." The IFJ Solidarity Centre (CESO-IFJ) warns: "This comment, which might in another context be innocuous, can only be interpreted as a warning that the journalist would be killed if he continued his critical reporting, given the context in Villavicencio and the fact that person he was referring to was someone under investigation for a crime and, to boot, the son of the most powerful rice-grower in Meta."

Eduardo Márquez, president of the Colombian Federation of Journalists (Federación Colombiana de Periodistas, FECOLPER) and executive director of CESO-IFJ expressed unconditional support for Bedoya Henao, saying that the authorities had already been informed of this latest wave attacks by corrupt sectors and that CESO-IFJ's legal advisor had taken the case to the interior ministry.

FECOLPER and CESO-IFJ also backed the position taken by the Meta journalists' association (ASOPEMET),which asked the authorities to protect Bedoya Henao, investigate the origin of the threats and punish those responsible. ASOPEMET also called upon those who believe they have been negatively affected by coverage to use their right to demand a rectification by the media outlet, or file a lawsuit.

FECOLPER represents over 1000 journalists in 18 departments of Colombia. IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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