Report to the 75th General Assembly of the IAPA

October 4 – 7, 2019

Coral Gables, Florida


The growing harassment on the part of armed groups of social leaders and people recognized for their work in community areas tragically touched the press in this period. Two journalists, Libardo Montenegro and Mauricio Lezama, were murdered, according to reliable indications, for their work as journalists and in particular issues of peace and human rights. These deaths are complemented by the threats to journalists, in particular in territories that are the scene of disputes among illegals.

Another growing trend is that recourse is taken to the courts in an attempt to silence press denunciations, obliging the media to engage in costly legal battles.

On June 11 two hitmen murdered Libardo Montenegro as he was parking his car outside his home in Samaniego, Nariño, where he worked at the radio station Samaniego Stereo, with which his family has been linked since its launch. Montenegro used to host the programs "Café al día" and "La Rocola." In 2017 he took part in "Así suena la paz en los territorios" (This is how peace sounds in the territories), a project of several community media to inform on the peace agreement with the Farc guerrilla force in their respective territories. He used to speak with victims of the conflict and about the lack of compliance with the commitment on the part of the government.

People close to Montenegro coincide in that his death was in reprisal for his work as organizer of the "March for the peace and life of Samaniego" and for his denunciations of illicit cultivation. The authorities have not yet solved the crime, which has given rise to self-censorship in the local media.

On May 9 audiovisual producer Mauricio Lezama was murdered in the town of Arauquita, Arauca department. He was killed during a short reading of "Mayo" of which he was general producer, on the life of Mayo Villarel, a nurse and militant of the Unión Patrótica party who survived an attempt on her life during the period in which the organization was decimated by paramilitary forces.

He was shot six times and killed. His body remained on view in the roadway for more than four hours. The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) said that this was a crime because of his work and that no member of the Attorney General's Office or the Judicial Police could come in time to the area for not having guaranties on the part of the Army and the Police. There disappeared from the crime scene his cell phone and camera, as well as the bullet cartridges. There are still no results of the investigation to determine who was responsible.

In 2019 the FLIP has recorded 12 attacks on the press in Arauca.

There continues on an increase the tendency on the part of citizens and entities to have recourse to legal channels, criminal claims, guardianship and actions for civil responsibilities against the media. Also there is appealed the right to oblivion taking advantage of the legal spaces to eliminate news from the media's digital archives.

The Association of News Media (AMI) and the Colombian Attorney General's Office are carrying out a compilation of cases to establish whether there exists a pattern or a modus operandi in these legal actions, in particular on the part of state bodies.

Concern was caused by a ruling by the Cali Higher Court that ordered the newspaper El País to distort the face of the protagonist of a car accident who took a video that the paper published. This ruling could give rise to a precedent to require the media to seek prior authorization from those who participate in news events. It is hoped that the Constitutional Court accepts the request for review of the ruling.

There is concern over the outcome that could be had by the case of guardianship submitted by a group of journalists following the decision of a judge to not permit them to be present during the hearing of a trial of former director of the Modelo national prison. This ability of the judges to call for the withdrawal of the press only occurs in cases determined by the restrictive form law. Among these are those that touch upon national security, public order and those that have a direct relationship to minors.

The case was selected by the Constitutional Court, from which a pronouncement is expected shortly.

Other important matters during this period:

The strategy of giving priority to the investigation of and legal action on threats against human rights defenders led to three rulings against those responsible for the offense of threatening journalists. One of them sentenced to 38 months in prison and a fine of 6.5 minimum salaries Francisco Javier Andica Acevedo for his threats on social media to several journalists, among them cartoonist Julio César González Quiceno, known as "Matador."

Another conviction was of John René Gélvez Gélvez to 53.3 months in prison for his threats to journalist Jorge Eduardo Espinosa who worked for RCN radio.

On August 6, the day on which Jineth Bedoya received the announcement of the award of the IAPA 2019 Press Freedom Grand Prize, he received threats on his cell phone.

Bedoya,who was the victim of a kidnapping, torture and violation in events that occured on May 25, 2000, is heading for the past 10 years the campaign "It is not time to be silent" that fights against violence. This year, on reaching two decades since the acts, the judiciary condemned two of those responsible, alias "jota jota" and alias "Huevoepizca." The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to submit this case to the Inter-American Human Rights Court.

In August there was raised again the legislative bill that would revive the professional card for journalists, although unlike the previous attempt it would not have an obligatory nature.

Following an intense debate there was shelved the bill of U party senator José David Name that sought to create "norms of good use and functioning of the social media and website in Colombia."

In March a ruling of the Constitutional Court motivated by a custody claim of a citizen who sought protection of his rights to life and personal safety, to honor and good name for having been insulted on Facebook, established that "an imputation must be sufficiently intense for a constitutional judge to limit the right to freedom of expression."

The Court added that opinions, insults and affronts directed against officials and public figures cannot be the object of censorship. However, it declared that not all opinions against those who hold public posts have public value, so messages that incite to hatred and violence, to genocide, to war propaganda or that accuse a person of having committed an offense cannot be permitted under arguments of free speech.

The magistrates removed from social media the responsibility of regulating the contents that users publish and established that it is not necessary for a judge to determine if content published in them is defamatory in order to order its elimination, but that enough is the criteria of the judge that resolves the case when this is the way for which there is requested the protection of a right at the time and good name.

On September 14 the Colombian Attorney General's Office declared as a crime against humanity the murder that occurred on September 16, 1999 of journalist Guzmán Quintero Torres who worked at the newspaper El Pilón in Valledupar, Cesar, arguing that it happened within the framework of a systematic and generalized attack upon the press. The journalist had made denunciations that involved the police force. He began to receive threats in 1995 when he wrote for El Heraldo of Barranquilla the article "The children of the Sierra" on the actions of armed groups in the Perijá mountains. Some months earlier he had reported on military errors, in one of which two women died and in another a minor did.

The perpetrators of the crime were captured, but not the masterminds. This decision enables the continuance of an investigation that following the declaration of ex-paramilitary Luciano Rojas "Alex" points to the alleged responsibility of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo "Jorge 40."

Also declared as a crime against humanity was the murder of journalist Nelson Carvajal that occurred in Neiva, Huila, on April 16, 1998. To date the judiciary has not been able to establish who were the perpetrators and masterminds. In March 2018, at the urging of the IAPA, the Inter-American Human Rights Court had condemned the Colombian government for not guaranteeing Carvajal's right to life and for not investgating the facts that led to his death.