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"El Espectador" journalist in Medellín receives death threat

(FLIP/IFEX) - 28 June 2011 - The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) condemns the threats issued against journalist Mary Luz Avendaño, a correspondent for "El Espectador" newspaper in Medellín, the capital of Antioquia. The journalist has been investigating violent acts committed by drug trafficking groups.

On 22 June 2011, one of the journalist's sources told her that they had received a call from someone who said, "Tell your friend, journalist Mary Luz, to stop publishing inanities, if she doesn't want to win the 'grand prize'." Prior to the threat, in the last few weeks, a number of individuals, including members of the police intelligence, have warned the journalist that she is at risk over her reports on drug trafficking groups. As a result, the journalist has been under police protection, following an order by General Yesid Vázquez, the Medellín police commander.

Avendaño covers stories that few journalists dare to touch in Medellín. The city is consumed by an ongoing turf war between two criminal gangs, known as Valenciano and Sebastián, who are fighting over control of the drug trade. A source told FLIP: "The local media are mute on these issues. They don't dare touch these topics, they just publish what the police say. But for many of us it is not a secret that some police officers are supporting the Sebastián gang in order to get rid of Valenciano."

Avendaño had recently reported on the the links between the police and the criminal gangs and "polibandas". On 2 April, five people were assassinated near the Barrio Santander police station. The police apparently did not intervene and two of the victims had been detained at the station minutes before the incident.

Avendaño told FLIP, "I can't be certain about where the death threats come from. A lot of my reports touch on the situation in Medellín. But without a doubt, my most recent investigations on the 'polibandas' and the link between Valenciano and someone known as 'Mi Sangre' have sparked the greatest reaction."

General Vásquez recently announced that some police officers would be sanctioned for failing to respond to the Barrio Santander homicides. At the same time, he has provided the journalist with protection while the investigation is continuing. Gabriel Jaime Salazar, the police spokesperson, told FLIP: "We are very aware of the case, and have requested that SIPOL assist in the investigation. The Interior Ministry is also involved in providing protection."

FLIP welcomes the swift reaction by General Vázquez vis a vis the protection provided to the journalist but at the same time calls on the judicial authorities to take actions. If those behind the threats are not held accountable, FLIP fears that Avendaño will continue to remain at risk.

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