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Journalist receives death threat, is repeatedly harassed, following critical articles on Melgar mayor

(CESO-IFJ/IFEX) - At 11:00 p.m. (local time) on 7 February 2008, journalist Rogelio Prado Rodríguez found an envelope containing four death notices inviting him to his own funeral. These kinds of notes are commonly understood to be death threats. The notes, similar in appearance to the posters commonly posted in public in Colombia to announce funerals, were sent to him at his apartment in Ibagué, capital of Tolima department, where he had taken refuge after being threatened in the town of Melgar.

Prado had to flee Melgar after a series of threats which began when a bag of rotting animal viscera and blood was thrown into his yard at the end of May 2007. Following that, he received further threats, in messages telling him to "shut up" wrapped around thrown stones. Since 26 October he has also received several calls by individuals using foul language urging him to leave the municipality.

According to Eduardo Márquez, executive director of the IFJ's Solidarity Centre and also the President of the Colombian Federation of Journalists (Federación Colombiana de Periodistas, FECOLPER), those responsible for the threats against Prado Rodríguez have been reacting to the journalist's revelations, since 2006, of a series of inadequately fulfilled or irregular contracts on the part of the municipal government during the administration of José Alejandro Martínez Sánchez, who is now Tolima's secretary of infrastructure.

The journalist's revelations, aired on his morning public affairs programme, broadcast by Radio Tropical F.M., led to a visit by the Tolima departmental comptroller's office, which, in its subsequent report, confirmed 50 irregularities. However, nothing has been done about the irregularities, despite the fact that other media outlets, such as "Nuevo Día" and "Tolima Hoy" newspapers, also began investigating the matter.

"Those pursuing Rogelio should know that our colleague is not alone, and that despite the fact that we don't have the same weight to throw around, we do have the power of words, which we exercise in Colombia and beyond," add Márquez. "Corrupt individuals and the FARC have turned Tolima into the country's most difficult department in which to work as a journalist. Regarding the FARC, we can only say that each of their attacks on journalists only furthers that group's political isolation. Regarding the corrupt, we urge the state to take decisive action, since anything else constitutes complicity." FARC is the acronym of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), the country's largest and oldest guerrilla group.

Márquez also announced that Prado Rodríguez's case will be presented, along with a general report on the security problems and deteriorating working conditions faced by the majority of Colombian journalists, to a commission of the American Federation of Labour (AFL-CIO), which has a component organisation affiliated with the IFJ. The AFL-CIO commission arrived in the country on 11 February 2008 to assess assassinations and threats made against journalists and to gather information to help it determine its position on the proposed free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States.

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

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