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Another journalist denied visa by western government

(RSF/IFEX) - 15 September 2010 - Claudia Julieta Duque, a Colombian radio journalist who has been hounded by her country's intelligence services for years, has been denied a visa to Britain, where she was due to have arrived tomorrow at the invitation of the National Union of Journalists to give a speech.

Duque was notified on 3 September that her visa application had been rejected by the UK embassy in Bogota. She had nonetheless been received at the embassy just one week earlier by ambassador John Dew, who had honoured her as "human rights defender of the month" for July.

This is not the first episode of its kind. TV journalist Hollman Morris, who has also repeatedly been threatened in Colombia, was denied a US visa in July. In his case, the US State Department backed down and issued the visa to Hollman, the producer of the programme Contravía, after an international outcry including protests by Reporters Without Borders and other NGOs.

In both cases, it is hard not to suspect that the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), Colombia's leading intelligence agency, had a hand in the decision to deny the visa requests. The journalists had in both cases been received by embassy officials shortly before the visa refusals.

Duque had planned to visit Britain as part of a European tour that began on 6 September in Stockholm, where she received a press freedom award from Reporters Without Borders-Sweden. She arrived in Paris on 11 September and had intended to fly London five days later.

"The British embassy letter of 3 September said I would probably not want to go back to Colombia because of the threats that have been made against me," Duque told Reporters Without Borders while in Paris. "But I only asked for a four-day visa. The letter included a calculation of the sterling equivalent of my salary, from which the diplomatic authorities concluded that such a low salary would not allow me to finance the visit."

Duque added: "Just before I set off for Stockholm, a British embassy official called me back and, in the course of the conversation, rather strangely asked me what I planned to say at the meeting arranged in Britain."

This disturbing question unfortunately seems to reflect the propaganda that the government orchestrated against journalists who criticised the security policies of the last president, Alvaro Uribe, during both of his terms. They were the targets of both smears and phone tapping.

Duque will not have time to contest the British embassy's decision. This is a bad precedent that must not be repeated by the embassies of other western countries. Duque is due to travel to the United States in October to receive the "Courage in Journalism" prize that is awarded by the International Women's Media Foundation.

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