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Indigenous protests threatened by violence, censorship in Colombia

Reporters Without Borders condemns the violence and other forms of intimidation and censorship being used against a campaign of peaceful demonstrations, called a Minga, that indigenous groups are currently waging in many parts of Colombia to defend their rights.

In one of the latest instances, the home of Daniel Maestre Villazón, a community journalist and Minga coordinator in the northern department of César, was burgled on 21 October and his laptops and computer hard disks were stolen.

Three indigenous journalists were physically attacked by riot police in the southwestern department of Cauca on 17 October, while a paramilitary group called the “Rastrojos” circulated a leaflet on 15 October threatening community leaders and journalists participating in the Minga.

“Whenever a Minga is staged, indigenous groups and their news media are the targets of intimidation and violence with the clear aim of censoring their message,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“This situation is similar to what many community news media suffer on a smaller scale every day, especially in war zones, where they are exposed to pressure from three sides – from the army, the paramilitaries and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“The survival of community media is vital for informing communities and making their views heard. It is also vital for the safety of those that are isolated and in constant danger. The Mingas play a key role in the public debate and in the expression of constitutional rights and freedoms, and attacks on them should be punished accordingly, regardless of where the attacks come from.”

José Vicente Otero, the spokesman of the Cauca Indigenous Regional Council (CRIC), said: “The Minga is a campaign of social mobilization around the key demands of Colombia's indigenous peoples, above all, territorial autonomy. It is a communication event that is also addressed at the government, with the aim of reaching agreements in a peaceful manner.”

He said the physical violence used by riot police against the indigenous community journalists Adolfo Conejo Sanchez, Dora Muñoz and Enrique Quintero was indicative of a continuing tendency on the part of the authorities to treat indigenous demonstrations as acts of subversion and to try to restrict the news coverage they receive.

“Our journalists provide the indigenous movement with an extremely important service, because we cannot count on the traditional media,” Otero said. “Unfortunately, recognition of community media is a real problem in Colombia. The lack of official accreditation seems to facilitate attacks on journalists and the seizure of their equipment by police with complete impunity.”

Indigenous community media are regarded as “military targets” by armed groups such as the “Rastrojos.” These media lead the way in coverage of the issue of land confiscated by the paramilitaries during the civil war and are constantly exposed to the threat of paramilitary violence.

“We will not let ourselves be intimidated,” Otero added. “We will continue to provide coverage of what the indigenous peoples experience during and after the Minga.”

Reporters Without Borders continued to provide assistance to CRIC-affiliated community radio stations in 2013, funding the purchase of recording equipment for their journalists.

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