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Eight journalists sued for defamation

(RSF/IFEX) - Journalists employed by two radio stations in Yopal, the capital of the northeastern department of Casanare, stopped work on 28 July 2010 and demonstrated silently, with their mouths gagged, in the city's main square, to protest a lawsuit targeting eight of their colleagues and to demand respect for freedom of information.

Eight journalists who work for Violeta Stéreo and La voz de Yopal are being sued by Casanare governor Raúl Flórez, who insists that they made false and defamatory comments from February to April 2010 by reporting that he was being investigated by the department of public prosecutions and that only part of his departmental development plan had been executed.

The journalists who are being prosecuted are César Colmenares, Martha Isabel Cifuentes, Martha Cabezas, Iván Vargas and Amparo Acuña of ''Contacto Noticias'' (on Violeta Stereo) and Rubén Darío Venegas, Jorge Luis Ospina and Javier Gaviria from ''La Voz de Casanare'' (on La voz de Yopal).

The journalists who took part in the protest said their aim was to "express our outrage about the governor's lawsuit," which violates the constitutionally-guaranteed right to information and opinion. They accused him of using his coercive power in an arbitrary manner in order to gag the media and conceal the problems that his administration has encountered.

RSF calls on the governor to withdraw his complaint, which accuses the eight journalists of insulting and defaming him, and instead to follow the legal procedure for requesting a rectification, or to use his right of response.

The journalists concerned told RSF that the governor ignored their repeated suggestions that he should respond to the allegations on the air. They added that they had various kinds of documents that supported their claims and they were ready to defend themselves in court.

Colombia's criminal legislation on insult and defamation violates article 13 of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and article 10 of the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, which says that "the protection of a person's reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official [or] a public person."

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