The past six months have seen frequent government accusations against journalists, as well as reports that government officials, law enforcement officers, and private citizens have threatened journalists or interfered with their work. This comes against a backdrop of protests and demonstrations throughout the country that left four journalists seriously injured: one in the department of Putumayo, another in Santander, and two in Tolima. In the departments of Atlántico and Santander, a mayor and a city councilman, respectively, insulted and assaulted two journalists over their reporting. In Valle del Cauca, officials from the Administrative Security Department (DAS) detained two foreign journalists and seized their material. The same thing happened to journalist Hollman Morris during the effort to secure the release of six abductees of the FARC. Morris and another journalist, Jorge Enrique Botero, were harshly criticized by Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and President Álvaro Uribe, who said that the journalists were hiding behind their status to act as “permissive accomplices to terrorism.” This comment was criticized by the IAPA. In another development, Semana magazine reported on illegal phone taps systematically and selectively conducted by the DAS against judges, political leaders, and journalists. According to the magazine’s source, the phone taps on the journalists — most of them editors or directors of media outlets — were aimed at intimidating them, getting them to identify their sources, and finding out their editorial line. Government officials again criticized the work of journalists on several occasions, especially in response to reports scrutinizing the work of public officials or political figures. Presidential adviser José Obdulio Gaviria accused journalists of paying for confidential information and said it was a crime for them to publish material they obtained through their investigative work. Semana magazine described the adviser’s words as part of a “Machiavellian smear campaign.” These months have also seen an increase in court cases pursued against journalists for their work. The most significant cases were brought by Judge José Alfredo Escobar Araújo, who sits on the judicial oversight panel, against Semana magazine editor Alejandro Santos, Cambio magazine editor Rodrigo Pardo, and journalists Daniel Coronel, Mauricio Vargas, and María Jimena Dusán. Escobar Araújo has asked the courts to order A proposed law regulating the right to obtain information remains under study, though without major progress. This bill would have serious implications on journalists’ ability to work freely and independently. Also pending is a bill aimed at protecting the right of individuals and families right to their “honor” and “good name,” which also includes troublesome provisions. Other pieces of proposed legislation reveal a tendency to restrict the advertisement of certain types of medication. In a noteworthy development in the fight against impunity, Julio César Ardila Torres, the former mayor of Barrancabermeja, was convicted and sentenced to 28 years and 4 months in prison; and Juan Pablo Ariza, a city council candidate in Barrancabermeja, and Abelardo Rueda Tobón, a candidate for the departmental legislature in Santander, were convicted of the April 6, 2003, killing of journalist José Emeterio Rivas. Among recent violations of press freedom are the following: In October, a number of journalists from Valle del Cauca reported receiving threats and intimidating phone calls seeking to dissuade them from reporting on an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General into the alleged involvement of police officers in bank robberies. In Valle del Cauca, media outlets based in indigenous communities reported that their Web sites were blocked at the very moment that its members were involved in clashes with law enforcement. Evelin Coba, a reporter for the Barranquilla daily La Libertad, was verbally assaulted by Carlos Roca Roa, the mayor of Sabanalarga in Atlántico department. According to the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP, by its Spanish acronym), Roca Roa showed up in the newsroom and insulted Coba for reporting on the penalty assessed to Sabanalarga for failing to report by the appropriate deadline on the use of public funds generated by royalties in 2007. Two French journalists were detained by officials from the Administrative Security Department (DAS) for their alleged involvement in illegal activities and because their visas did not authorize them to work as journalists to cover the protests by sugar cane workers in Valle del Cauca. The journalists reported that the material in their cameras was copied. Fernando Cifuentes and Leonardo Montoya — Noticias UNO correspondents in Antioquia and Chocó, respectively — reported that attorney Leonel Torres had threatened them in connection with their investigation into alleged irregularities. Six members of the National Police in Soacha, Cundinamarca, issued death threats to journalists from local television station HV Televisión who were giving a report on police officers’ drinking on the job. In November, a criminal court judge ordered that Semana editor Alejandro Santos Rubino be arrested and held for three days. This came after the magazine had refused for the third time to issue a correction — after doing so twice to satisfy court orders — of an article titled “El mecenas de la justicia” (The Patron of Justice), which ran on April 28, 2008. The article called into question the influence and friendly relations of Ascencio Reyes with officials at the Office of the Attorney General and the high courts. A court order and charges of desacato (disrespecting a public official) initiated by José Alfredo Escobar Araújo, a member of the judicial oversight panel, and culminated in the arrest of the Semana editor and the assessment of a fine against him. The Constitutional Court granted the order sought by journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, who was under DAS protection and demanded that records of her personal activities made without her consent be returned. The court ruled that the government may gather private information only after obtaining legal authorization to do so and ordered the DAS to turn over all of its records on Duque. Jazmín Romero of Vanguardia Liberal and Mario Ruiz of Pase TV in Santander reported receiving threats. Romero was forced to leave the area in 2007 due to threats in response to his reports on electoral matters, while Ruiz was threatened after chairing a forum that urged the media to monitor a bidding process being conducted by the mayor’s office in the municipality of Socorro. Also in Santander, journalist Rosberg Perilla of local television station Enlace TV reported that Councilman Nelson Riaño Galvis punched him in response to questions about allegations of corruption. Several journalists were subjected to threats, acts of intimidation, and assaults in Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo department, while covering protests over the closure of illicit enterprises. The attacks on journalists covering the shutdown of two companies known as DMG and DRFE spread to other parts of the country in subsequent months. In January, Bucaramanga criminal court judge Nelly Vallejo Aranda convicted Julio César Ardila Torres, the former mayor of Barrancabermeja, and sentenced him to 28 years and 4 months in prison; and convicted Juan Pablo Ariza, a city council candidate in Barrancabermeja, and Abelardo Rueda Tobón, a candidate for the departmental legislature in Santander, for the April 6, 2003, killing of journalist José Emeterio Rivas. The IAPA noted both the conviction and the judge’s denial of Ardila’s petitions for house arrest and for a suspended sentence. Ardila’s sentence will not be reduced because he did not cooperate with the justice system. He will only have the right to an appeal, as established by law. In February, President Álvaro Uribe and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos described journalist Hollman Morris as “a friend of terrorism” and accused him of being an “apologist for violence” and an “accomplice to the FARC.” IAPA president Enrique Santos Calderón stated that “by no means do any professional lapses by Morris justify the government’s disproportionate statements,” and that regardless of Morris’s actions as a journalist, the case has given rise to a “necessary debate between journalists and society on the role of journalism in sensitive issues and situations.” Morris, director of the news program “Contravía” and a correspondent for foreign media outlets, reported receiving death threats in e-mails sent to the program. One of these messages said, “Helper of the FARC, you should be dead for supporting a group of criminals who do so much damage to the country.” In the first week of February, a publication purportedly put out by a paramilitary organization known as the Black Eagles was distributed in Barranquilla. The publication declared several journalists, among others, as military objectives, warning them to “shut your mouth, or we’ll get you.” On February 24, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed its concern over the negative impact on press freedom caused by the DAS’s phone tapping of several journalists. Semana magazine reported on the destruction of extensive archives including recordings, secret documents, and intelligence analyses with information on political leaders, judges, and journalists, such as Daniel Coronel, director of Noticias UNO; Semana editor Alejandro Santos; Félix de Bedout, a journalist for W Radio; Julio Sánchez Cristo, station director at W Radio; Darío Arizmendi, station director at Caracol Radio; and El Espectador columnist Ramiro Bejarano, who is also the attorney for Judge César Julio Valencia in a criminal case against President Uribe. According to the magazine’s source, the objective is to intimidate these individuals, get them to identify their sources, and find out their editorial line. On February 27, the Colombian attorney general responded to the accusation by presidential adviser José Obdulio Gaviria that he was peddling information by describing the statement as brazen and unfortunate, and said the meeting he held with Semana editor Alejandro Santos “was public and he was seeking information on the illegal phone taps by DAS officials.” Obdulio Gaviria accused the attorney general in various media outlets of having met with the Semana editor in a restaurant, and described this meeting as an “enormous irregularity.” Gaviria also said that he considers it a crime to release the content of tapped phone calls to the public. The journalists’ union generally opposed the statements by Obdulio Gaviria, while Semana magazine issued the following statement: “1. It is the editorial policy of this magazine not to pay for information under any circumstance. 2. Similarly, one of the guiding principles of this publication is to honor the confidentiality of sources, which is upheld in the Colombian Constitution and in journalistic ethics. 3. We are concerned that this Machiavellian smear campaign may achieve its objective of intimidating our sources and making it impossible to continue uncovering serious criminal acts about which the public has the right to know. 4. Semana reaffirms its commitment to seek the truth with integrity in order to strengthen democracy.”