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Journalist Denis Contreras, photographer Luis Rodríguez assaulted for criticising local mayor in Puerto Colombia

(FLIP/IFEX) - On 8 March 2009, journalist Denis Contreras and photographer Luis Rodríguez, of "El Heraldo" newspaper in Barranquilla, were assaulted and threatened by a group of people connected with the tourism industry in Puerto Colombia, Atlántico. The assailants were apparently not pleased with some of the paper's articles on a historic wharf which had recently collapsed, in part because of neglect.

According to information published in "El Heraldo", the protestors said they would no longer allow the newspaper to malign the municipality's mayor, Martha Villalba. The paper reported that a National Police officer sent by the mayor was present at the site of the incident but he did not intervene. "The 'El Heraldo' news team was surrounded, threatened and even struck, and the police did nothing," said Iván Darío Bernal, another of the paper's journalists.

Mayor Villalba told FLIP that she alerted the municipal police chief, Lieutenant García, when she became aware of the confrontation. "It is unfortunate that such things happen in our community, but there is nothing anyone can do about it," the mayor said. Villalba noted that she has a very good relationship with the press.

Lieutenant García disagreed with the journalists' description of events, saying instead that he had gone to the site to help and had accompanied the news team to the "El Heraldo" van. They were then able to leave without encountering any further problems, García said.

At the time of the incident, Contreras and Rodríguez were covering a meeting between Tourism Deputy Minister Óscar Rueda and municipal and provincial authorities to discuss plans for the reconstruction of certain recreational tourist facilities in the port.

FLIP condemns the treatment of the "El Heraldo" news team. It urges the public to have greater tolerance for the press and calls on local authorities to ensure that journalists are protected.

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