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Journalists' telephones wiretapped by security department

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 24 February 2009 IAPA press release:

IAPA warns of negative effects of wiretapping in Colombia

Miami (February 24, 2009). - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at the negative effects on freedom of the press caused by the Colombian government Security Department's wiretapping of a number of journalists in the country and insisted on the essential need to keep news sources confidential.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, urged Colombian authorities to conduct a prompt investigation to identify the individuals involved and establish responsibilities under the law.

The IAPA issued its warning after learning of Semana magazine's claim that a large number of files had been destroyed, among them tape recordings, classified documents and intelligence reports that contained information on a number of politicians, judges and journalists. The material, a Security Department source told the magazine, was destroyed on orders given between January 19 and 21 this year - three days before Felipe Muñoz took over as the new head of the department.

Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio, Texas, said that, in addition to violating the right to privacy that every citizen should enjoy, "wiretaps on news media are even more serious since they erode the relationship of trust between reporters and their sources and, as a result, end up violating the public's right to know."

Semana stated that, according to a statement by a counter-intelligence agent, the wiretaps of news media and journalists were intended, among other things, "to allow the government to see what is going on in the media which, in turn, allows them some maneuvering room during critical situations. It is a simple question that's basically divided into two categories. On the one hand, editors or newsroom chiefs are monitored intermittently to discover what journalists call the 'editorial policy.' But the major effort is aimed at the journalists who handle the information and the 'hard' sources. In this way they are killing two birds with one stone - they learn what is of interest and, more importantly, who they are talking to."

Among those mentioned as journalists whose phone conversations have been wiretapped were Daniel Coronel, editor of Noticias UNO; Alejandro Santos, editor of Semana; Felix de Bedout, a reporter with W Radio; Julio Sánchez Castro, director of W Radio; Dario Arismendi, director of Caracol Radio; and Ramiro Bejarano, a columnist for El Espectador and lawyer for Judge César Julio Valencia, who has filed criminal charges against Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

The wiretapping issue has re-surfaced a year and a half after a confrontation between the Supreme Court and the President's Office, during which accusations of illegal wiretapping of federal judges, journalists and Senator Gustavo Petro were made.

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