One of the most serious incidents in this period was the abduction of Dutch journalists Derk Johannes Bolt and Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender on Monday, June 19, in the Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia. They were abducted by the National Liberation Army, which later said this had been a mistake and released the two men a few days later.
There has been a troubling increase in attacks on the press compared to 2016, with 237 cases reported so far this year, 21 more than last year. The Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP) says that threats are the most frequent type of attack in Colombia, with 102 such cases so far, double the number in 2010.
There were 151 documented cases of attacks on the press, especially in the departments of Cauca, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, and Bogotá, according to the FLIP. Many of these attacks are committed by government officials in the form of threats and judicial harassment.
In some cases, journalists were illegally detained by police. One of these occurred on July 1, when María Montiel, a correspondent for the Colombia Informa news agency in Santander department, was illegally detained for 31 hours in the southern part of Cesar department while she was covering a public protest.
Jorge Noguera, former director of the now-defunct Administrative Security Department (DAS), was sentenced by the Supreme Court to 7 years, 10 months, and 15 days in prison for illegal wiretaps of opponents of the
administration of President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010). These opponents included a number of journalists.
On July 14, former President Uribe accused columnist Daniel Samper Ospina on Twitter of "being a child rapist" in response to a joking comment by Samper about the name of a daughter of a congressman from Uribe's party. Samper filed a claim for protection with the courts, and the former president was ordered to issue a public retraction. Uribe, however, appealed the court's decision. Also on Twitter, Uribe described Julián Martínez, a journalist for the Noticias Uno news program, as "pro-FARC."
On May 26, army general Javier Flórez criticized Maritza Aristizábal, a journalist with RCN, for having gained access to a confidential communication in which Flórez expressed his concern to Sergio Jaramillo, the high commissioner for peace, over the political nature of an event held by the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) as part of the process whereby the FARC is turning over its weapons.
In a widely publicized development, Saúl Cruz, undersecretary of the national Senate, feigned an attack by a cameraman from the Noticias Uno news program, prompting a wave of statements by senators condemning the incident. The legislators retracted their statements when they learned it had been a hoax.
A favorable development was the August 11 conviction of the killer of journalist Flor Alba Núñez in Pitalito, in the department of Huila. A criminal court in Neiva sentenced Juan Camilo Ortiz, aka "el Loco," to eight years in
prison for his involvement in the crime. No progress has been made in identifying the masterminds behind this killing.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights held hearings on August 22-23 in the case of Carvajal Carvajal et al. v. Colombia. Carvajal was killed in Pitalito, Huila, on April 16, 1998, after denouncing acts of corruption involving local politicians and business leaders. The arguments used by the defense for the Colombian government were met with objections from the FLIP.
The IAPA investigated this case in 2002 and and submitted it to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in 2015 referred the case to the Inter-American court. The court, in turn, recommended that the government reopen the cases and conduct an effective investigation within a reasonable period of time. Eleven family members of the journalist left the country due to threats in connection to their claims.
On June 13, a criminal court judge in Buga, Valle del Cauca, authorized a search of the Facebook profile of journalist William Solano, after a motion brought by a prosecutor investigating Solano for alleged defamation. The search of the journalist's profile was an attempt to gain access to his sources, in violation of his right to keep his sources confidential.
On August 25, journalist Mauricio Cardoso of the newspaper Extra de Caquetá was beaten and stabbed in an attempt to intimidate him into remaining quiet.
A ruling by the Constitutional Court ordered Google to remove content from the Blogger platform, in response to a claim by someone who was described
on an anonymous blog as a swindler and thief. This individual filed a claim for protection against Google seeking the removal of content that he considered defamatory.
The Constitutional Court also ordered the Ministry of Telecommunications (MINTIC) to establish a set of nationwide regulations "aimed at protecting the rights of Internet users, especially in relation to the publication of abusive, defamatory, dishonorable, or insulting items that constitute an attack on the honor of persons on the Internet, to avoid the repetition of actions such as those addressed in this action.
"These regulations also must provide for advice and assistance to victims of such abusive items in dealing with the online platforms on which such items have been published."
In its ruling, the court classified Blogger as a telecommunications service and ordered Google and Google Inc. to register with MINTIC as a provider of telecommunications networks and services. The court held that "its activities and purpose fall within the sector of information and communication technology."
It is troubling that MINTIC has been ordered to establish a set of nationwide regulations when it should not be involved in a matter concerning constitutional rights that cannot be regulated by an administrative agency. In the opinion of experts, this groundless interpretation in the ruling will have grave consequences.
In the past year, the Constitutional Court has been issuing case law that does little to protect freedom of expression on the internet. The court issued another regressive ruling on freedom of expression, following in the footsteps of ruling T-277 of 2015, which held that media outlets have a duty to act of their own accord to update the information they post on the internet about a criminal case when the case is resolved in the defendant's favor. In ruling T-725 of 2016, published in June 2017, the court ruled that media outlets must update any news item they have posted online whenever new significant information emerges.
Although the court doesn't say that this obligation applies even in the absence of a specific request, but simply that it is the right of an individual interested in seeking such an update, the court stated that this possibility exists as long as such information remains available on the internet. This ruling is causing concerns. First, the court's ruling applies not only to criminal proceedings but also to any news item posted on the internet. It also extends the ruling to any new significant information, without clarifying what would be considered as such.
Former presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez wrote an open letter to media executives criticizing a proposed law to protect and encourage citizen participation (a result of the agreement between the government and the FARC) for possibly including tools of censorship.
After this letter was sent, the government, acting through Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera, said that it had not put forward any proposal, thus undermining the document on which Ramírez had based her criticism.
The minister denied that any of the bills discussed by the executive branch included provisions aimed at barring government employees from "commenting or reporting about members of social organizations and the FARC, or barring media outlets from reproducing this information."
Two cases involving the killing of journalists expired under the statute of limitations this year: those of Santigo Rodríguez Villalba on February 2 and Freddy Elles Ahumada on March 18. It is feared that other cases — those of Alejandro Jaramillo Barbosa on October 24, Francisco Castro Menco on November 8, and Elías Márquez Gallego on November 20 — are also set to expire in the coming months.
The killing of Gerardo Bedoya was declared a crime against humanity on March 2, 2017, thereby exempting it from the statute of limitations.