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French photographer and documentary filmmaker briefly detained, documentary filmmaker expelled

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced concern about the Colombian approach to free circulation of news during social unrest after the arrest of French photographer Damien Fellous, and two other French nationals, one of whom was preparing to make a documentary.

Fellous, a Colombian resident, was working for the National Trade Union Institute (Instituto Nacional Sindical) on 13 October 2008, covering demonstrations by sugar cane workers who have been on strike for a nearly a month in Palmira, Cauca Valley, southwestern Colombia. He was joined by two French friends on a short visit, one of whom was Julien Dubois, an ex journalist planning to make a documentary on the crackdown on protests in Colombia. They were stopped and questioned by the Department for Administrative Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS) and taken to the departmental capital of Cali, then driven overnight to the DAS offices in Bogotá. Fellous was released the following morning, but Dubois and his friend, Joris Prot, were expelled the following day, after 30 hours in custody with no translator, including 24 hours in which they were held incommunicado. They were officially accused by the DAS of "taking part in political activities" by "supporting" the strikers with their presence, and were banned from Colombia for five years. Fellous and Dubois both told Reporters Without Borders that they found the methods used and the punishment to be disproportionate to the accusations against them. The photographer commented that "foreigners taking part in a march against FARC guerrillas in February of this year were not subjected to any checks or proceedings".

Reporters Without Borders said Colombia's restrictions on free circulation of news during disturbances was even more worrying since it came two weeks after the expulsion for the same reasons of German national Christina Friederika Müller, who was carrying out an investigation for several human rights organisations. "We hope that the authorities do not intend to restrict the free movement of foreigners observing areas in which there are widespread demonstrations," it said. It also asked that Fellous, who is still living in Colombia, not be given any trouble renewing his resident's visa in six months.

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