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Staff of Telesur news channel in Quito receive death threats, one of their vehicles sabotaged

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has condemned the death threats that have been being made, since May 2007, against the Quito-based staff of the pan-Latin American television news channel Telesur. This is not the first time the station, launched by the Venezuelan government, has been the target of hostility. RSF calls on the Ecuadorean authorities to act quickly to ensure such hostilities do not continue.

"The death threats and attempted sabotage of Telesur's Ecuadorean division come on the heels of attempts to harass and intimidate its Colombian correspondent, Freddy Muñoz," RSF said.

"Telesur represents an important current of opinion in Latin America and the way it is being attacked and smeared in some countries violates the principle of respect for editorial pluralism," the organisation added. "The threats have already been reported to the Ecuadorean judicial authorities. We urge them to identify those responsible and bring them to justice."

In a Quito news conference of 12 June 2007, Telesur chairman Andrés Izarra condemned a "campaign of harassment against the station's staff" in Quito that began about a month before. He said journalist Helena Rodríguez had received death threats from a "Death to Telesur" email address. "The messages accuse her of being (Venezuelan) President Hugo Chávez's prostitute," he said. Similar threats have been sent to other staff members and one of the station's vehicles was sabotaged.

Muñoz, Telesur's Colombia correspondent, was arrested at the Bogotá airport in December 2006 by Colombian intelligence officials as he was returning from Caracas, where the station has its headquarters. The authorities accused him of being in the pay of the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), offered a photomontage supposedly supporting this claim, and detained Muñoz until 9 January 2007. He subsequently had to flee because the judicial authorities were looking for him again, and because he was under threat from Colombia's paramilitaries (see IFEX alerts of 19 February, 11 and 3 January 2007, 19 and 7 December, and 29 and 21 November 2006).

Telesur was launched at President Chávez's initiative on 24 July 2005 as a counterweight to the influence of the US networks in Latin America. Izarra, a journalist and former communication minister in the Chávez government, has been its chairman since last year. The station is jointly financed by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba and, most recently, Bolivia.

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