Impunity, fear and violence are still the greatest obstacles to the exercise of press freedom in Colombia. Five journalists were killed during this period, three of them clearly because of their profession. In an unusual occurrence, all 16 journalists in Arauca province left the region because of threats by paramilitary and guerrilla forces who ordered them to leave within 48 hours and not return. This mass exodus turned Arauca into a “silenced zone” for several months. Thirteen returned four months later under heavy security. Thirty journalists reported receiving death threats, and seven of them left the country. Ten journalists reported being attacked by authorities while on the job, and two others were kidnapped by FARC guerrillas. Congress rejected President Álvaro Uribe’s objections to the Journalists Law, but the Constitutional Court ruled that the objections were only partially justified and approved accreditation by the Welfare Ministry. The court specified that accreditation would be voluntary and could be used as proof to receive benefits and guarantees established by law, but would not be a requirement to work in journalism. A proposed federal law to combat terrorism that is being considered contains articles and provisions that could restrict journalists’ access to information. Finally, a disturbing bill concerning press freedom in the Ombudsman’s Office is under consideration. Not only would it regulate the right of reply and establish duties for those who divulge information, it would also establish limits on media ownership. It would require that media outlets have at least 300 stockholders and none could own more than 49%. Impunity is still a problem. No progress was made in investigations of crimes against journalists. While 122 journalists have been killed in the past 15 years, the Colombian prosecutor’s office has only assigned 35 cases to the unit that handles these crimes. The other cases are scattered among regional prosecutor’s offices. Of these, 19 are in the preliminary phase of gathering evidence, and the criminals have not been identified. However, the prosecutor’s office has issued an arrest warrant charging a mayor with responsibility for the murder of José Emeterio Rivas on April 7 in Barrancabermeja. Also, as a result of the IAPA’s pressure with judicial authorities, the prosecutor’s office took the cases of the murders of Didier Aristizábal, Yesid Marulanda Romero, Gerardo Bedoya Borrero, Hernando Rangel Moreno to a special Committee to Expedite Trials, whose task is to move the process more quickly. The following are the principal developments: March -Riot police attacked three photographers of AFP, Reuters and AP who were covering demonstrations against the war in Iraq in front of the U.S. Embassy. An AFP photographer was wounded in the leg by a rubber bullet. -A reporter, a cameraman and a technician of RCN Televisión in Arauca who had been kidnapped by the FARC left the country on January 28. -Sixteen journalists who had been threatened by guerrilla and paramilitary forces in Arauca province left the region. The whole province was without news for almost four months, until three of the journalists returned with security protection ? such as a van and equipment to communicate with the police and the army ? provided by the vice president’s office and the Interior Ministry. -President Álvaro Uribe urged journalists not to provide an outlet for guerrilla and paramilitary forces. He expressed surprise that media companies provide an outlet for terrorists and asked the press to publicize his program to promote the demobilization of armed groups. April -FARC guerrillas attacked the radio station Timaná Estéreo in southern Huila, destroying the control tower and transmission equipment, as well equipment linked to Telecom. The station went off the air. -On April 7, the body of José Emeterio Rivas, director the radio program “Investigation of Administrative Corruption,” was found in a rural area of Barrancabermeja, Santander province. The journalist had been covered by the Interior Ministry’s program to protect journalists. The national prosecutor’s office then issued an arrest warrant for the mayor of Barrancabermeja, Julio César Ardila, as the alleged mastermind of Rivas’s murder. Ardila turned himself in on September 15. Rivas had been threatened by the mayor, whom Rivas had accused of ties to the paramilitary Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. The journalist had said the mayor would be responsible if anything happened to him. -The prosecutor’s office charged radio journalist Adonai Sánchez with attempted extortion in the case of the kidnapping of Venezuelan businessman Richard Boulton. -Journalist Alba Luz Arrieta Payares left the country because of death threats by guerrillas. She had been the press officer of the Second Brigade based in Barranquilla. -Pedro Cárdenas, correspondent of RCN Radio in Honda (Tolima), who had been rescued at the beginning of March after being kidnapped in that city, also left the country. Cárdenas had reported that the paramilitary forces were responsible for several murders in the region and that the mayor was involved in administrative corruption. -The FARC dynamited the transmission tower of the regional channel of Telecafé, which went off the air temporarily. -Respected veteran journalist Guillermo Bravo Vega was murdered on April 28 in Gigante, Huila province. He was killed by two hit men who shot him as he was writing on his computer at home. Bravo directed the commentary program “Hechos y Cifras” on the local Canal 2 and had disputes with a businessman because of his reports about the privatization of a liquor company. -The next day, April 29, Jaime Rengifo Rever, director and owner of the publishing house El Guajiro in Maicao, Guajira, on the border with Venezuela, was murdered. In the final broadcasts of the program he directed, “Periodistas en Acción,” he named people responsible for crime in Maicao, with the complicity or inaction of the authorities. Two weeks before he was murdered, graffiti in a hallway of city hall threatened him with death. Rengifo had been working as a journalist for 20 years. May -Diógenes Cadena Castellanos left Neiva, the capital of Huila, because of threats on his life. Cadena’s life was threatened the day after his colleague was murdered and he was given three days to leave the city. The journalist worked at radio station Huila Estéreo, where he had reported on corruption in the local government. -José Iván Aguilar Castañeda, director of the program “Noticias Ya” on radio station Súper and correspondent of “Noticiero Noticias Uno,” survived an attack when he arrived at the station in downtown Villavicencio, Meta province. The journalist had been threatened because he had forcefully criticized the mayor for improper dealings in the construction of a bus terminal. Two years earlier, after reports denouncing the armed forces, he was threatened by members of Brigade VII based in Villavicencio, who accused him of having ties to guerrillas. Aguilar left the country. -The Valledupar Criminal Court upheld on appeal the sentence against Jorge Eliécer Espinal Vásquez and Rodolfo Nelson Rosado Hernández for ordering the murder of journalist Guzmán Quintero Torres on September 16, 1999. They were sentenced to 39 years for murder. In January of 2002 a judge in Valledupar had acquitted the defendants, and the IAPA requested special oversight of the appeal. It continued this pressure until the sentence was upheld. -Journalist Adonai Cárdena, correspondent of the Cali daily El País in Buenaventura, was threatened after he published an article on April 2 about several murders in that city. -The newspaper El Tiempo published an investigative report about the investigation of the murder of journalist Orlando Sierra, assistant editor of the daily La Patria. It reported that six people linked to the investigation had been murdered in 16 months: a state official who had been linked to the crime, four hit men close to the person responsible for the crime and a prosecution witness. June -The prosecutor’s office charged Roberto Posada, a columnist for the newspaper El Tiempo, with libel because of two columns in which he linked former presidential adviser Pedro Juan Moreno to paramilitary forces. The prosecutor’s office did not accept the columnist’s retraction, saying it was incomplete. Posada appealed the charge. The prosecutor’s office then said the columnist’s correction complied with legal requirements. The IAPA asked the prosecutor’s office for rigor and transparency in this process and expressed the fear that expression of opinion may become illegal in Colombia. -In Arauca, the police arrested three people accused of killing Luis Eduardo Alfonso, a contributor to El Tiempo, on March 18, 2003. The journalists’ union publicly expressed reservations, saying there was not sufficient evidence that these were the culprits. July -Threats against José Dimas Rico, news director of radio station Eco Llanero de Villavicencio, were reported to the Free Press Foundation. He was threatened for reading statements by the government of Meta and the Military Brigade in that city. Carlos Fernández Bonilla, a columnist for the daily Occidente of Cali, was also threatened for a column on public enterprises. The paramilitary forces have prohibited Wiston Virachá, a correspondent of Canal Caracol in Nariño, from practicing journalism in Colombia. August -The Constitutional Court accepted some of President Álvaro Uribe’s objections to the so-called Journalists’ Law on the basis of being unconstitutional. The law was considered in Congress during the first half of the year. The court ruled that it is not possible to require a journalist’s card. It said the accreditation proposed in the law is valid, but it cannot be required to practice journalism. It can only be used as a way to prove eligibility for benefits the state provides to journalists. The court repeated that the practice of journalism is a universal right that cannot be restricted by conditions. -A team from El Tiempo made up of reporter Jineth Bedoya and photographer John Vizcaino was kidnapped by the FARC in Puerto Alvira in Meta province. They were held for five days, and their documents and equipment were seized. They were trying to investigate what had happened to 70 families who had disappeared the year before after the FARC took over that town. -On August 22, Juan Carlos Benavides Arévalo, news director of community radio station Manantial Stereo in Sibundoy in Putumayo province, was murdered. He was traveling in a pickup truck with other people along a road in the province when two people in civilian clothes shot at the vehicle. Benavides was hit in the head. It is not known if Benavides was the target or what might have been the motive of the attack. -Jorge Real, a cameraman for Canal RCN in Valledupar, was attacked by members of the Popa Battalion while he was filming the bodies of ELN guerrillas who had been killed in a military operation. A lieutenant grabbed his camera. September -The prosecutor’s office ordered the indefinite detention of journalist Emiro Goyeneche of radio station Emisora Sarare Stereo in Arauca province for alleged ties to the ELN guerrilla organization. -A terrorist attack by the FARC on communication towers of Páramo de las Domínguez, took Telepacífico and state channels (Uno, A and Señal Colombia) off the air. It caused $5 million in damage. October Rosa Omaira Moreno Blandón left the country because of threats by guerrilla and paramilitary forces in Chocó province that she had denounced in her programs on Caracol Radio and her opinion columns in several media outlets. The journalist was supported by the organization Reporters Without Borders. -On October 7, announcer José Nel Muñoz of radio station Latina Stereo, an affiliate of the Caracol radio network in Puerto Asís, Putumayo province, was killed. The police blamed FARC guerrillas. Other versions said that the announcer was killed as a reprisal for his coverage of President Uribe’s recent visit to that region. -As a legislative initiative against terrorism, Congress approved amendments to four articles, including one that prohibits the media from identifying any person during the first 72 hours after he or she is detained.