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Barranquilla city councillors threaten to initiate criminal proceedings against journalist

(FLIP/IFEX) - After attacking him verbally, the majority of city councillors in Barranquilla, the capital of Atlántico department, approved a motion to initiate criminal proceedings against journalist Ernesto McCausland Sojo for having published comments criticising the city council. On 20 June 2008, the "El Heraldo" daily published a column by McCausland entitled "The Angels and the Carnival". In the article, the journalist expressed his concern that the city's councillors were using the traditional Barranquilla carnival for their own political gains.

According to information published by "El Heraldo" and other local media outlets, there was an aggressive tone in the council sessions held on 20 June from beginning to end. The councillors verbally attacked the journalist and his family, making unfounded accusations against him and calling on him to "rectify his fear-mongering and confrontational article against the honourable councillors." In the 23 June council session, the councillors approved a new motion to initiate criminal proceedings against the journalist for libel.

In an open letter, journalists and freedom of expression organisations throughout Colombia spoke out against the councillors' actions and expressed their solidarity with McCausland, saying, "This attitude is not only an affront to the norms of decency that should govern a society that wants to live in peace and harmony, but it is also a way in which words can be used violently to frighten and attempt to restrict the sacred right to criticise and express dissent."

FLIP joins in the expressions of support for McCausland. The principles of freedom of expression protect the right to express opinions, including those that may be adversarial, controversial or irritating. In addition, in their role as public officials, the Barranquilla city councillors have to be willing to be subjected to criticism and oversight by citizens. FLIP finds it surprising that the city's councillors have opted to use mechanisms pertaining to their office, such as council motions, in an inappropriate manner to restrict freedom of expression and the work of journalists.

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