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Journalists threatened, attacked during protests

(FLIP/IFEX) - On 26 November 2008, various journalists were threatened, intimidated and attacked in Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo, while they were covering protests by citizens against the shutdown of investment companies involved in illegal businesses known as "pyramid schemes".

These events occurred when hundreds of people who invested with the DMG company blocked the road between Mocoa and Pitalito, in Huila department, and confronted the police who intended to take control of the area. The riots reached the parking lot of the attorney general's office where vehicles were burnt by protestors.

In the midst of the protests, Luis Eduardo González, a correspondent for the news channel CM&, was injured and had to be taken to the hospital in Mocoa with 13 other injured persons. Lorena Bermúdez, a journalist with the Radios Ciudadanas de Putumayo, was taking photographs of tanks and soldiers when two people in uniform asked her to identify herself and insisted that she hand over her camera.

"I told them that it was okay if they wanted to look at the photos because I had nothing to hide," said the journalist. Sergeant Alfonso Calvero asked Bermúdez and the officers to come to the station to look at the photos. The patrol officer reviewed the images and gave the camera back to Bermúdez, but the photos were erased. Bermúdez protested this and demanded that they return her image files. In a conversation with FLIP, Calvero explained that the patrol officer did not understand the instructions and erased the photos on the camera, although they were eventually recovered.

In a separate incident, the community radio station "Ondas del Putumayo", which had broadcast programmes allowing people to voice their opinions on the problem created by the collapse of the pyramid schemes and the intervention of DMG, has received constant threats from an unidentified individual who claims to represent the business owners of Mocoa. "The man warned us not to talk about this on the station any more, claiming that we incited violence and disorder and that we were bad for business. As well, he told us that he has all our programmes recorded and warned that something could happen to us," said Gonzalo Portilla, the station's director.

According to other sources, the special correspondents sent by RCN and Caracol television also suffered attacks from the protestors, who accused them of being "government correspondents".

FLIP expressed its concern over these attacks and threats against the journalists of Putumayo and demands that the authorities investigate who is responsible for these serious events. FLIP also calls on citizens to respect the work of journalists covering these events. In no way are they responsible for the unfortunate situation that now exists in various parts of the country because of the bankruptcy and closure of these illegal investment companies.

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