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Two journalists attacked in northeastern Colombia

The following is a translation of a 13 January 2017 statement originally published on flip.org.co.

FLIP condemns the attack perpetrated against journalists Cristian Herrera and Andrés González, of La Opinión newspaper, in the city of Cúcuta, located in Colombia's northeastern department of Norte de Santander. The identity of the individuals responsible for the attack is not known.

On Thursday 12 January 2017, the journalists were traveling in a National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) vehicle to Cúcuta's San Gerardo neighbourhood to cover the assassination of a taxi driver. They were intercepted by two unidentified individuals on a motorcycle who obstructed the passage of their vehicle. One of the individuals threatened them and told them to refrain from conducting their investigation into the assassination. The threats continued even after Herrera identified himself as a reporter.

Later, when the La Opinión journalists were returning, they were surrounded by about six motorcycles and were told to get out of their vehicle, in order to be lynched. Herrera told their bodyguard to accelerate in order to escape and as they were doing so they heard gunshots fired into the air. Stones were also thrown at the vehicle, breaking the rear window. The journalists managed to escape uninjured.

After the incident, Herrera and González took refuge in the Immediate Reaction Centre (Centro de Reacción Inmediata, CAI) located in Cúcuta's industrial area.

FLIP is concerned for the La Opinión journalist's safety. On 12 July 2016, a similar incident took place involving La Opinión journalists Jairo Jácome and Juan Pablo Bayona. On that occasion, the two journalists were caught in crossfire while covering a police operation against smugglers. In 2016 FLIP also documented five assassinations and three kidnappings in Norte de Santander.

Taking into account the incidents that have taken place and the precarious public security situation in the department, FLIP calls on the UNP to strengthen protective measures for all affected journalists.

In addition, FLIP calls on the Prosecutor's Office to investigate the incidents in order to bring those responsible to justice. The permissive attitude of the authorities in these cases creates an atmosphere conducive to repetition of these types of events.

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