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ILLEGAL WIRETAPPING JEOPARDISES JOURNALISTS' WORK AND SOURCES

The illegal wiretapping of prominent Colombian journalists endangers their work and compromises their confidential sources, say IFEX members the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Colombia's leading newsweekly "Semana" revealed last week that agents of Colombia's national intelligence service (DAS) had been wiretapping the communications of prominent Colombian journalists, judges, opposition politicians and even officials in President Álvaro Uribe's administration.

Citing five unnamed DAS agents, the magazine said that intelligence officials had monitored and intercepted thousands of emails and telephone calls at the end of 2008 - some of them even selling the info on to armed groups and drug traffickers.

A counterintelligence detective told "Semana" that one of the goals behind tapping media and journalists "is to inform the government of what is being done in the media, in order to give the government some time to react when critical situations arise."

The magazine identified six well-known journalists who had been spied upon: "Semana's" director Alejandro Santos; Julio Sánchez Cristo and Félix de Bedout of W Radio; Caracol Radio's director Darío Arizmendi; Ramiro Bejarano, a columnist for the daily "El Espectador"; and Daniel Coronel, news director of TV network Canal Uno and a columnist for "Semana". Coronel is one of Uribe's harshest critics.

Last week, Attorney General Mario Iguarán ordered a search of DAS headquarters and assigned two prosecutors to probe the agency. Uribe said he didn't order the wiretaps, which he blamed on a "mafia gang" within the intelligence service.

DAS, which reports directly to the Colombian President, has been plagued by scandals throughout Uribe's time in office, the reports said.

"We are dismayed that President Uribe, who prides himself on having a firm grasp on the institutions of Colombia, would acknowledge that a spy agency that reports to him is running amok," said CPJ. "DAS must be reformed to ensure that it acts within the law."

Since the scandal broke, at least three top DAS officials have resigned, and Uribe has announced that DAS will no longer be directly in charge of electronic interceptions. They will now be under control of the national police.

Visit these links:
- FLIP: http://www.flip.org.co/veralerta.php?idAlerta=348
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/cfbj4v
- IAPA: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101063/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30422
- Semana: http://tinyurl.com/cvzq5w
(4 March 2009)

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