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FLIP concerned over actions against journalists in period leading up to elections

(FLIP/IFEX) - 28 October 2011 - FLIP is concerned over a series of actions against journalists in the period leading up to local elections on 30 October. Of the 17 direct actions against journalists documented by the organisation, four took place in the department of Meta.

On 13 October, in Puerto Gaitán, Meta, three Telesur journalists were assaulted by U (Social Party of National Unity) supporters as they were covering a story about oil royalties and the poverty level in the municipality. Reporter Ángela Camacho told FLIP that they were pelted with rocks and were accused of being guerrillas. They were also told that if they had arrived in the area to report negatively on the local mayor, they would be lynched. Camacho was accompanied by camera operator William Moreno.

On 12 October, in the municipality of Mesetas, also located in Meta, police officers seized equipment belonging to Radio Mesetas Estéreo and shut down the radio station. Programme host Ernesto Arango Restrepo said the action was in retaliation against the station for its failure to support the "official candidate" in the elections. He said that in nine years there have been no complaints against the station. According to municipal officials, the station was shut down because it did not have the appropriate licences in place and had failed to pay its municipal taxes. Arango Restrepo said the only thing the station is lacking is a frequency licence because when it was established there was no government authority in the region with the ability to issue the licence.

In Tarazá, Antioquia, mayoral candidate Gladys Rebeca Vides Lujan allegedly issued a death threat against journalist Luis Carlos Cervantes after he investigated issues relating to the municipal elections. According to a complaint filed with the authorities by Cervantes, Vides Lujan called the journalist on 25 October to tell him to "stop sticking his nose into things" and that some people wanted to see him dead and would accomplish their goal. FLIP is particularly concerned about this case since Cervantes has received death threats in the past, and within the electoral context the risks faced by the journalist may increase.

On 26 October, in Magdalena, FLIP sources said that all copies of the "El Informador" newspaper were seized in the city of Santa Marta and the surrounding municipalities. According to "El Informador" editor Cecilia Vives, at 7:30 in the morning she was informed that a black van had pulled up to locations where the paper is sold and asked to buy all copies of it. Staff at the media outlet believe the action against the paper is related to a story it published in which a mayoral candidate denounced a plot to link him to paramilitary personnel by way of false statements.

FLIP has documented other serious incidents in the departments of Arauca, Casanare, Cesar, Santander, Guajira and Caldas, in addition to the cases in Meta, Antioquia and Magdalena. The organisation views the actions against journalists as particularly worrisome since they affect the ability of citizens to obtain information and vote in an informed manner.

(Please note this is an abridged translation.)

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