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Journalist missing in Colombia may have been abducted

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 23 May 2016.

Salud Hernández-Mora, a Colombian-Spanish journalist who was reporting on human rights violations and the illegal drug trade in northern Colombia, has been missing since Saturday and may have been abducted, according to her employer and the Spanish and the Colombian governments.

One of Colombia's best-known journalists who often reports from conflict zones, Hernández-Mora writes a weekly column for the Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo and has served as Colombia correspondent for the Madrid newspaper El Mundo since 1999. A Colombian Defense Ministry statement released Sunday said she was last seen Saturday afternoon in the village of El Tarra, near Colombia's border with Venezuela.

"We call on Colombian authorities to use every means possible to find journalist Salud Hernández-Mora and bring her to safety," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas. "The reporter's disappearance is a chilling reminder of the great dangers journalists face while reporting on Colombia's decades-old civil conflict."

According to El Tiempo, an unidentified man approached Hernández-Mora while she was eating lunch and promised to return a mobile phone and camera that had been stolen the day before. Hernández-Mora took a motorcycle taxi to follow the man, who was also on a motorcycle, El Tiempo reported. She has not been seen since.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced today that he had ordered security forces to work exhaustively to locate the journalist. The Defense Ministry statement said that police and members of the military's anti-abduction unit were searching for the journalist and were gathering testimony and evidence in El Tarra.

Spain's acting foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, told journalists in Brussels Monday that evidence suggests that Hernández-Mora was abducted by the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Marxist guerrilla group.

According to Bogotá's Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), Hernández-Mora had been reporting in the region since May 16. The area is home to vast plantations of coca, the raw material used to make cocaine, drug-trafficking gangs and left-wing guerrillas, according to the Bogotá news website La Silla Vacía.

FLIP said Hernández-Mora had been working on stories about the cocaine trade, the death of a guerrilla leader known as Megateo, and the case of an army officer who had been imprisoned for killing a local farmer. Hernández-Mora also covered a protest in El Tarra on Friday over the disappearance of two local residents.

El Tiempo director Roberto Pombo today told Colombian radio that Hernández-Mora had had some difficulty communicating because of a poor telephone connection, and so he could not rule out the possibility that the journalist might simply be reporting beyond the reach of mobile phone networks. He said he was concerned and hoped for her safe return.

Hernández-Mora, who has written four books about Colombia and who holds dual Spanish-Colombian citizenship, has also worked for the Bogotá-based Free Country Foundation, a group that counsels the relatives of kidnapping victims. In her columns, she has been sharply critical of Colombia's guerrilla groups and of the ongoing peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest rebel organization.

Since 1992, at least 47 journalists have been killed in Colombia for their work, many as the result of the conflict between the state and armed guerilla groups. While security for journalists in Colombia has improved in recent years, threats and violence against journalists continue, often with impunity, according to CPJ research.

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