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Radio station shuts down following death threats from FARC guerrillas

(CESO-IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a joint 5 February 2008 press release by CESO-IFJ and the Colombian Journalists' Federation (Federación Colombiana de Periodistas, FECOLPER):

On 4 February 2008, Acción FM Estéreo 98.3, a community-based radio station in Anzoátegui, was forced to shut down after station manager Joaquín Chávez received death threats from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC). The incident occurred just twenty-four hours after the biggest demonstration in Colombia's history was held to protest the guerrilla group's actions. The station had been operating since 23 July 2006 and its operating licence was held by the Anzoátegui Produce Growers' Association (Asociación de Productores Agropecuarios de Anzoátegui).

The journalist had been receiving threats for a few weeks. On 16 January, an individual who introduced himself as "John" called Chávez on his mobile and demanded that he stop broadcasting a National Army advertisement calling on illegal armed groups to put down their arms. Chávez told the caller that he needed the income from the paid advertisement to keep the station on the air. The FARC's representative said the guerrilla group could also pay for some advertising spots on the station but Chávez declined the offer. In response, the caller said: "Don't look for trouble, S.O.B. You'd better remove that advertisement for me."

Two days later, during an evening call-in programme, one of the callers tried to send a message out to the FARC's Jacobo Frías Alape division. The call was cut off. At 7:20 p.m. (local time), Chávez received a text message on his mobile informing him that he had one hour to shut down the radio station.

He received a similar message the next day: "Do you want to die? You have one hour to shut down the station. This is not a joke."

After some examination of the situation with friends and family members, Chávez decided to take the station off the air. He announced the decision to his listeners on the morning of 4 February.

This is the second time in six months that a radio station in Tolima department has been forced to shut down due to pressure from the FARC. On 5 August 2007, journalist Rodrigo Callejas took the "Debate 5" news programme, which was broadcast on Fresno Estéreo, off the air. A FARC commander, giving his name as Luís Alfonso, told Callejas over the phone: "You are meddling in our affairs and for this reason you are going to die." The cancellation of the news programme resulted in the de facto death of the community-based station, which was run by a Fresno community group.

"Journalists are tired of being harassed by this guerilla group, which claims to be the people's army," said FECOLPER President Eduardo Márquez. "Two radio stations have shut down. Recently, a journalist of the Arauca-based station Sarare Estéreo was forbidden from mentioning the FARC's name on the air, whereas in August 2007 the FARC had issued death threats to all journalists in the department for doing the exact opposite."

The FECOLPER president said that the IFJ would take advantage of its consultation role to the United Nations to denounce the ongoing threats and harassment of the media.

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