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Journalists jeopardised by soldier's impersonation of Telesur television crew member during hostage rescue operation, warns FLIP

(FLIP/IFEX) - The following is a 24 July 2008 FLIP press release:

In public statements on 23 July 2008, Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos acknowledged that the Colombian Army appropriated Telesur international television station's logo during the Army's recent operation to rescue 15 people held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), the country's largest guerrilla group. The Army apparently used the Telesur logo on the vest and microphone of a soldier posing as a camera operator. Santos said the use of the logo was "an insignificant detail given the magnitude of the results." FLIP notes the following, in relation to this incident:

1. Freedom of expression in Colombia is exercised under adverse conditions. Aside from the risks inherent to covering the armed conflict, journalists are constantly the victims of threats, assaults and obstruction of their work by the illegal groups involved in the conflict, as well as by drug traffickers and government officials. Also, many journalists have been murdered over the last few decades in Colombia, and the majority of these crimes have remained unpunished, and in many cases, not even been investigated.

2. The Armed Forces' impersonation of a television crew member intensifies the vulnerability of journalists in Colombia, especially in the areas where illegal armed groups are present.

3. This impersonation also implies a refusal to recognise the fact that journalists have the status of civilians in the context of armed conflicts. Under Article 79 of the Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, "journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians." The term "journalists" includes correspondents, reporters, photographers, camera operators and technical assistants. The civilian status of journalists safeguards their work and means that the parties to the conflict cannot treat journalists as combatants or spies.

4. FLIP does not agree that this incident was "insignificant", as the defence minister dismissed it as being. It is worrisome that this action - the impersonation of a news crew - stigmatises the press's role covering the armed conflict, and in particular, endangers Telesur international television station's journalists. FLIP urges the government to apologise to Telesur, and as well, to publicly and explicitly promise that the practice will not be repeated as it implements its strategy to combat illegal armed groups.

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