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Video producer flees Huila after death threats related to controversial video

(FLIP/IFEX) - 24 February 2012 - The Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) condemns the death threats issued against video producer Bladimir Sánchez Espitia, an independent media worker and an activist with Corporación Comunidad, an organisation that develops communication vehicles for vulnerable communities in the municipality of Gigante, Huila. The latest threat was received on 22 February 2012 in the afternoon, days after he had uploaded a controversial video to the Internet.

On 14 February in Gigante, the Police's Anti-Disturbances Squadron (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD) forceably removed approximately 30 fishermen after a legal action was launched by the Spanish multinational company Emgesa. The fishermen insisted on staying on the banks of the Magdalena river, protesting plans for the El Quimbo dam project. During the protests, police did not allow journalists or human rights workers to access the area. Even so, Sánchez recorded images of the overly violent actions of the ESMAD who were removing the protestors from the area. The following day, Italian camera operator Bruno Federico, who had filmed the eviction, was detained for hours by the police.

Sánchez had been working with the Association of Communities Affected by the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project (Asoquimbo) for a few months when he made the video of the eviction. He told FLIP, "I'm happy here. I have worked on seven audiovisual products, and uploaded them to YouTube, and this one has had the most impact because of the attacks by the police. How can they deny what they've done? Now they are making me leave with these threats."

On 19 February the video producer received the first anonymous call, in which he was accused of being a guerrilla and warned to be careful. Then on 22 February, hours after he did an interview on W Radio with the Huila police chief, Colonel Juan Francisco Pelaez, Sánchez received a new threat from an unknown number, telling him "We are going to take care of you and make you disappear." Fearing for his safety, he decided to leave the region.

Pelaez said he did not know about the threats against Sánchez. He told FLIP "He needs to file a complaint, and once we have verified the credibility of the threats we will provide him with the necessary protection."

Gina Piragauta, a "La Nacion" reporter in Huila who has also made statements about the video, said she thinks she is being followed. "I have seen two people, I think they are police officers, following me and taking pictures of me." Piragauta has written four reports on the El Quimbo eviction.

FLIP calls on the Ministry of the Interior and the National Safety Unit to implement the appropriate measures to safeguard the life of Sánchez, and calls on the judicial authorities to speed up the investigation to find out who is responsible for the threats.

Watch Sánchez's video, "El vídeo que el gobierno Colombiano no quiere que veamos", below:

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