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Córdoba newspaper employees receive death threats over reports on corruption

(FLIP/IFEX) - According to William Salleg Taboada, editor of the "El Meridiano de Córdoba" newspaper, which is distributed in a number of departments along Colombia's northern coast, he and other employees of the newspaper have been receiving threats.

The newspaper's investigative team has been looking into irregularities in business dealings at the local and departmental level. The most important case involves alleged corruption within the Córdoba government in the setting up of a water distribution system in the region.

After one of the newspaper's journalists filed a request for information about the contract, she received a call on her home telephone. The unknown caller warned her to "leave the matter alone".

Subsequently, on 1 February 2008, the newspaper published the first of its reports on the Córdoba water contract. The next day, the journalist received another threatening call during which she was told that she would be killed if she continued to look into the water distribution plan.

The journalist, who has asked that her name not be revealed, told FLIP that the newspaper has always focused on exposing corruption. While she showed concern, she expressed the hope that the situation would "calm down" and that this would just prove to be a passing threat.

Salleg has also received threatening calls. On 4 February, an unknown caller warned him to "leave the water contract alone". Salleg told FLIP he that does not know the course of the threats. Despite the threats, however, he intends to publish the investigation's results. Salleg said he hoped the authorities would provide the newspaper staff with protection.

Other journalists in the region believe the water distribution contract has been plagued by irregularities. According to one source, the deal was finalised very quickly and this has raised suspicions. The Attorney General and the Córdoba departmental comptroller will be looking into the matter.

Córdoba Police Chief Óscar Atehortúa told FLIP that he has been in contact with Salleg and that some security measures are being considered. The colonel did not provide details for security reasons but said his department would ensure that the journalist is protected.

According to Salleg, during a recent radio programme he was accused of being linked to paramilitary groups. A few days later he received some threatening calls. He has filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office and has informed the Montería Police of the incident.

FLIP urges the Attorney General's Office to launch an investigation into the threats against the "El Meridiano de Córdoba" staff. It also calls on local authorities to provide the journalists with protection. FLIP notes that the media plays an important role in denouncing corruption.

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