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Several journalists victims of judicial actions violating source confidentiality or intended to silence criticism

(FLIP/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 25 August 2008 FLIP press release:

In recent weeks, information has emerged about a number of legal processes currently underway involving members of the press, either as defendants or as witnesses, and statements from government officials calling for investigations into the conduct of certain journalists:

- Journalist and sociologist Alfredo Molano is facing criminal charges for insult in connection with an opinion column entitled, "Araújos et al" (Araújos etc,), which was published in the 12 February 2008 edition of "El Espectador" newspaper. A complaint was filed against Molano by the families Araujo Ariza and Molina Araujo. The preliminary hearing in the case was suspended on 12 August. Similarly, journalist Pascual Gaviria is facing criminal charges for insult filed against him by the former mayoral candidate in Medellín, Luis Pérez. In October 2007, Gaviria wrote a column entitled, "Doctor en mentiras" (Doctor in lies), in which he criticised Pérez.

- The Supreme Court of Justice and the House of Representatives' Accusations Commission recently summoned a number of journalists to testify in trials connected with the "para-política" scandal, which has arisen following revelations of the magnitude of paramilitary influence in the current administration, and alleged bribery that resulted in a legislative decision altering the Colombian Constitution in order to allow presidents, including the current one, to run for consecutive terms in office, something which had previously been prohibited. According to "El Espectador" newspaper, Rodrigo Silva, of the Caracol radio station, and Edgar Velosa and Sandra Pureza, of the Caracol television station, among others, have already testified.

- On 22 August 2008, President Álvaro Uribe Vélez called for journalist Daniel Coronell to be investigated, alleging the journalist had committed a crime by not publishing an interview he carried out in 2004 with former Congress representative Yidis Medina. During the interview, Medina stated that her own vote in favour of the bill allowing presidential re-election was given in exchange for bribes offered to her by the government.

- William Parra, a Telesur television station journalist, and Carlos Lozano, of the weekly "Voz", have been placed under investigation for alleged links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), Colombia's largest guerrilla group. Apparently information found on the computers of recently slain FARC leader Raúl Reyes indicated contact between those journalists and the FARC.

Regarding the issue of criminal charges filed against journalists for "insult", FLIP expresses concern over the way in which criminal complaints, or the threat of these, have been used to silence the press's criticism of current or former government officials and other people in the public eye. The freedom to express opinions is a fundamental cornerstone of a democratic society and, barring some very specific limitations, this freedom should not be curtailed or subject to criminal sanctions, otherwise such curtailments constitute unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression.

FLIP also disagrees with the practice of summoning journalists to testify in court about events about which they have obtained information in the course of their work. This practice not only inhibits the journalists' coverage of news, but also violates their right to protect their sources. Judges should exhaust every other possible avenue to obtain information on a case and only in specific cases - for example when national security or the stability of the state itself are in imminent danger - should journalists be summoned to testify.

FLIP reiterates journalists have a right to protect their sources and notes that it is not a crime if a journalist chooses to not identify a source or keep confidential information provided by source, especially if the source has expressed a desire to keep this information secret.

Finally, as regards possible links between journalists and illegal armed groups, FLIP is not familiar with the details of the Parra and Lozano cases. However, it calls on the authorities to ensure that due process is followed and that the journalists are provided with an opportunity to disprove the accusations. It would be worrying if the journalists are punished for "ties" to illegal armed groups simply for having used these groups as sources of information or for having expressed opinions sympathetic of the groups' positions.

For further information on the Molano case, see: http://www.ifex.org/es/content/view/full/96031

For further information on the Coronell case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96441

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