Report to the MIdyear Meeting 2019
March 29 to 31
Cartagena, Colombia
In this period there persisted an increase in attacks upon journalists, at the same time that there appeared legal initiatives and administrative actions that seek to limit press freedom, as well as judicial measures, threats and obstructions by public officials.

There is moving ahead in Congress a bill – it has already passed through the first debate in its move through the legislature – which seeks to revive the journalist's card. The presentation for the second debate opens greater room for confusion as it suggests that it will not be obligatory in the event that it is implemented. In the face of this initiative the Colombian Association of News Media (AMI) said that it is an inconvenient one, above all for being confusing in its proposals and in its form, for which reason it has recommended that it be shelved. The text of the bill speaks of an agency, a Council, that would have the power to issue and withdraw said card, which would be made up of the government, journalist unions and some journalism schools. Feared are the criteria that are used and those who would be in charge of those functions.

A senator of the U party filed a bill that would create a tool for network users to be able to "counter false or offensive information." It would involve service lenders, requiring them to take corrective actions within 72 hours, under threat of "being involved in legal proceedings that are carried out as a consequence of the publication." Thus there would be opened a window for censorship and there would be assigned to Internet providers the responsibility of applying arbitrary and non-transparent parameters to filter contents that are transmitted over the network.

In February the IAPA sent to the Constitutional Court the text of the Salta Declaration before a February 28 public consultation of this court on freedom of expression in social media.

The organization stressed the relevance of the consultation and urged the Constitutional Court to consider what is established in the Salta Declaration in regard to the rights and responsibilities that media and journalists, technological intermediaries and citizens should assume, as well as the guarantees that must protect governments.

In a lawsuit filed by a citizen over a publication on Facebook the Constitutional Court determined that for a judge to order withdrawal of a social media message the finger-pointings that are made in those spaces against third parties should clearly and convincingly show that they violate the right to a good name and honor, that is to say they should "generate harm to the subject's moral heritage."

On the occasion of the plebiscite that took place in September 2016 the National Electoral Council (CNE) issued a resolution in which licensees, as well as non-users of the electro-magnetic spectrum, are asked for reports to verify equality and plurality in the time for promoters and opponents. At its time Andiarios had achieved that there be amended a similar resolution leaving the obligation only for media that use the spectrum. The ruling appeared again in the regulations of the anti-corruption consultation of August 2001, in the face of which the AMI lodged before the CNE a request for reconsideration which so far has not been resolved. More recently there was also included in a resolution that regulates the Statute of the Opposition, passed by Congress in 2018 as part of the laws that specify the peace agreements with the FARC. In this regard the Constitutional Court, on the occasion of a lawsuit of unconstitutionality filed by the same union, clarified that such obligation only concerns the licensees of the spectrum, for which reason it continues to be worrisome that the CNE does not revoke the unconstitutional rules.

A resolution of the Industry and Commerce Superintendence, concerning an advertisement of a mobile telephone company published in the Medellín newspaper Q'hubo urged media to act as viewers and reviewers of their advertising contents. Given this disposition the AMI and Asomedios jointly submitted an appeal for direct annulment.

Other major events:

On December 7 the host of the program "Los puros criollos" (The Pure Creoles), Santiago Rivas, complained that a chapter of that series scheduled on Señal Colombia channel of the public media system RTVC (Radio Televisión de Colombia) was not going to be broadcast. Rivas suggested that the change in programming had political motivations due to the critical position of a legislative bill to modernize the Technologies of Information and Communications sector. The RTVC manager denied that this was the reason. Some weeks later a taping of the meeting in which the decision was taken left in evidence the link between Rivas' public posture and the decision of the manager not to broadcast the program for the following period. The case ended up in the resignation of the manager in January.

On November 1 District Attorney Office 53 specializing in human rights violations decided on the opening of preliminary investigation and the connection of Jhon Jairo Velásquez, a.k.a. "Popeye," and Gustavo Adolfo Gutiérrez Arrubla, a.k.a. "Maxwell," in the case that is underway for the murder 32 years ago in Bogotá of the then editor of El Espectador, Guillermo Cano. Both Velásquez and Gutiérrez were hitmen of the Medellín cartel of Pablo Escobar. Several testimonies, including one by "Popeye" himself, suggested that they had relationship with the planning of the murder which to date remains unpunished.

On December 3 District Attorney Office 66 specializing in violations of human rights declared as a war crime the murder of El Espectador journalists Julio Daniel Chaparro and Jorge Torres, committed on July 24, 1991, in Segovia, Antioquia, by members of the National Liberation Army (ELN). The District Attorney said according to the date it can be determined that the crime occurred in the context of the armed conflict and against people protected by the International Humanitarian Law. The importance of this decision is based on the fact that the case is imprescriptible and the govrnment continues with the obligation of clarifying the facts and punishing those responsible.

On February 1 District Attorney Office 6 specializing in human rights violations decided to open proceedings and call to inquiry Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, a.k.a. "Gabino," Israel Ramírez Pineda, a.k.a. "Pablo Beltrán," and Eliécer Herlinto Chamorro, a.k.a. "Antonio García," members of the ELN Central Command. An order for their arrest was issued, with the objective of their appearing in court.

The pronouncement of the District Attorney indicates that the death of Chaparro and Torres "came from the orders of Julio Lezcano, a.k.a. Zarco," who commanded the Segovia militia, an order that necessarily infers that it comes form the Central Command as a policy born of the condition of the enemy." At 27 years after what happened the case has suffered several setbacks, although the authorship of the ELN was always maintained.

On December 11 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of liberal politician Ferney Tapasco as the mastermind of the murder of the managing editor of the Manizales newspaper La Patria, Orlando Sierra, committed on January 30, 2002 in Manizales.

In its ruling the Supreme Court declared that "the threats that Orlando Sierra put up with due to his journalistic activity are a reality demonstrated in the proceedings which, moreover, are known by the people that accompanied him and shared his work, his family life." Tapasco had been convicted in the second instance by the Caldas High Court on June 24, 2015. In his column in La Patria he criticized political leaders of his region, among them Tapasco. The mastermind of the crime, Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, was sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2002, in 2007 he was released from prison and was murdered in 2008.

On January 16 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported on the approval of its in-depth report on the kidnapping, torture and sexual violence of which Jineth Bedoya was the victim on May 25, 2000, offenses that to date remain unpunished. The report and its approval make it possible that the Colombian government could be brought trial before the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
From September 1, 2018 to February 26, 2019 the Foundation for Press Freedom recorded 195 attacks upon the press, which involved 247 journalists. Of this total 44 cases derived from public officials and involved 59 journalists.

On March 22, a circuit judge of Bogotá, when deciding an action of protection, ordered the RCN channel to refrain from broadcasting an interview that was to be part of the March 24 issue of the "4 Caminos" news program. A person that was targeted in several denunciations for presumed deceptions in his professional activity, filed the judicial action. The decision of the court constitutes censorship through judicial harassment and can set a very serious precedent and it is part of a context in which recourse to tutelage to silence the press is becoming more common.
The most frequent aggression was violent threats with 63 cases and involved 87 journalists, followed by 28 cases of harassment.