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Sarare Estéreo community radio station, its journalists and other employees threatened, apparently by paramilitary

(IFJ/IFEX) - When community radio station Sarare Estéreo's journalists arrived for work at dawn on 29 May 2008 in Saravena, Aracua department, they found a gigantic graffiti message on the station door, apparently from the national paramilitary group, Autodefensa Unidas de Colombia (AUC). This is only the most recent of a series of threatening messages, which began being sent as text messages to station journalists and other staff on 8 May, warning them "for your own good, don't meddle in things that aren't your business." Some staff members were sent such text messages up to three times. At least 14 journalists and media workers received the text-messaged threats.

Sarare Estéreo broadcasts information about Arauca department and the national situation, including information on public security matters, but its reporters are not sure exactly which stories motivated the threats, since the messages did not allude to any particular news item or theme.

The journalists who received the text-messaged threats include, among others: station director Emiro Goyeneche; news announcer Ismael Rodríguez; directing manager Ella Patricia Ardila; field journalist Helida Parra; news announcer Fanny Fernández; journalist Isneldo González; technican and programme host Espedito Ríos; programme hosts Fabiola Nuñez, Deibys Pantoja, Alexis Iván Rojas, Gustavo Cuadros and Noé Cárdenas; Xiomara Acevedo; and Heber Pinzón.

In August 2007, IFJ condemned a campaign by left-wing guerrillas threatening Arauca radio stations that did not broadcast their propaganda; IFJ Secretary-General Aidan White noted then that "journalists are facing a terrifying level of violence in Colombia and the government must make good on its promises to protect them. While media are being bullied by armed groups to broadcast political messages or remain quiet about information, through threats to the safety of employees, press freedom cannot survive."

Now, again, journalists in Arauca department are being threatened by an intolerant group, this time of the extreme right.

"The situation of Arauca journalists is evidence of the sacrifices that we frequently must make as journalists, to keep the public informed," said Eduardo Márquez, President of the Colombian Federation of Journalists (Federación Colombiana de Periodistas, FECOLPER), and director of the IFJ's Solidarity Centre in the country.

Márquez added, ". . . We have heard rumours of the emergence of groups of the extreme right in Arauca, but we must be cautious, because it is possible that these threats may have been made by ordinary criminals. In any case, we have told the Ministry of the Interior that a report from the journalists threatened will be sent so that the ministry can implement the appropriate security measures."

In reference to a separate case, also involving intolerant behaviour toward a journalist, Márquez expressed his frustration with the National Police delegation before the Committee to Protect Journalists (Comité de Protección a Periodistas), a body with representatives of various state entities and non-governmental organizations under a programme run by the Ministry of the Interior. Despite several urgings to the National Police to protect journalist José William Azanzalez Sánchez, of Venadillo, Tolima department, the police operating in that department have received instructions to attend to his safety.
FECOLPER represents over 1100 journalists in 19 departments throughout Colombia. IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

For further information on the August 2007 FARC guerrilla pressures on Arauca radio stations, see:

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