Report to the Midyear Meeting
April 20-23, 2021

This period saw severe restrictions on journalistic work - especially on the Colombian-Venezuelan border; the death of a journalist; the expiration of the statute of limitations for several murders that occurred in 2000; and legal threats regarding the imposition of the right to honor over freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, the government began the regulation to allow the Unified Fund for Information and Communication Technologies finance projects for the digital transformation of the media. This initiative was approved by Congress at the end of 2020 and originated as a way to support the economic recovery of newspaper companies affected by the pandemic. For this reason, last year the IAPA sent a letter to President Iván Duque, recognizing the importance of this type of efforts in the context of a sustainability crisis for the press.

Likewise, in December a bill was submitted to Congress to stimulate the recovery of the media by generating industry incentives and the allocation of official resources and official advertising - all under principles of transparency and editorial independence. The initiative was filed by the Cambio Radical party and was supported by other political groups.

The following are other important events that took place in this period:

Andrés Felipe Guevara - a journalist from the newspaper Q'hubo Cali - died on December 23, two days after he was hit by four bullets. Guevara, 27, had been a court reporter since 2017. The chief of the Cali Metropolitan Police stated that there were no indications that the crime was related to the profession, but a complaint by the journalist to the prosecutor's office generated doubts regarding the motive. A minor was captured and charged as the alleged perpetrator. A thorough investigation into the homicide has not yet been carried out.

The State claimed lack of due process, disqualified five of the six judges that make up the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), and withdrew from a hearing that was judging its responsibility for the threats, kidnapping, torture and sexual violence against journalist Jineth Bedoya in 2000. The position of the State - represented by Camilo Gómez, director of the National Legal Defense Agency - was unanimously rejected.

In her statement, Bedoya spoke about her journalistic work and the investigations she was doing at the time, the risks she was exposed to, her requests for protection and the state's response. She described the events of May 25, 2000 - and the impact on her life.

In a March 24 ruling, the IACHR accepted her claim and resolved: to require the State to adopt measures to effectively protect the rights to life and personal integrity of Jineth Bedoya Lima and Luz Nelly Lima; to inform the beneficiaries about the progress of its implementation; to inform the IACHR about the protection measures adopted as of April 9, 2021; and for the victims' representatives and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to present their observations on the State's report.

Journalists Vicky Dávila and Claudia Gurisatti received threats from Jesús Santrich - a member of the FARC dissidents - through broadcast groups on Telegram. On March 9, General Jorge Luis Vargas - Director of the National Police - confirmed the threats to the journalists through messages and videos.

The First Criminal Court of the Specialized Circuit of Tumaco sentenced Jesús Vargas Cuajiboy, to a 28-year and 8-month prison term, for the March 2018 murder of journalists Javier Ortega, Paúl Rivas and Efraín Segarra - from the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio - on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border.

The sentence was a consequence of the preliminary agreement between the Attorney General's Office and Jesús Vargas Cuajiboy. An act of apology and acknowledgement of responsibility was held as a form of reparation to the victims, but as of yet, the Prosecutor's Office has not been able to fully clarify the motives of the crime - nor has it identified all the perpetrators and masterminds.

In an appeal decision, the Labor Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice denied the writ of protection requested by journalist Vicky Dávila and Radio Cadena Nacional SAS (La FM), letting the sentence passed by the Superior Court of Bogotá in October 2020 stand. This is a civil lawsuit filed by former police chief Jorge Hilario Estupiñán and his family - for which the court ordered the payment of a hefty financial compensation.

The Court considered that the journalist caused damages to Estupiñán in 2014, as a result of corruption allegations when he was police chief in Casanare, for the irregular purchase of several police stations.

Some organizations were concerned that these rulings may be used as a method of pressure to inhibit journalistic work.

On November 20, the Sixth Criminal Court of the Specialized Circuit of Bogotá ordered the channel Las Igualadas, Fidel Cano and El Espectador to rectify an opinion broadcast on the channel - following complaints by women about gender violence against José Francisco Jacomo Ángel, head pastor of the religious congregation El Shaddai.

On October 6, Gustavo Rugeles - director of El Expediente - was served with an arrest warrant and ordered to pay a fine of two minimum wages, for non-compliance with a court order requiring him to remove and rectify a publication disseminated on social networks and on his website.

The 16th Civil Court of the Circuit of Barranquilla dismissed the judicial harassment process brought by Abelardo De La Espriella, with which he intended to silence the opinion of journalist Cecilia Orozco. The judge did not find proof of damages to the honor and good name of De La Espriella - allegedly caused by publications about his activities as the lawyer of a former judge of the Constitutional Court, accused of possible extortion.

In March, Rafael Hernández and Luis Gonzalo Pérez - Venezuelan journalists and correspondents for NTN24 - were illegally detained, together with two members of the NGO FundaREDES, for almost twenty hours by the Bolivarian National Guard. They received threats and were stripped of their work equipment and identity documents. The day before, the NTN24 journalists had been appointed as special envoys to cover the escalation of violence on the Colombian-Venezuelan border as a result of clashes between the Venezuelan Army and a dissident group of Colombian guerrillas. They had approached a command of the Bolivarian National Guard to ask for authorization and protection.

On March 16, 2021 the Superior Court of the Judicial District of Florencia, Caquetá, revoked the historic sentence against the hitman who murdered journalist Luis Antonio Peralta and his wife Sofía Quintero. The Court reduced the sentence by 13 years, as a result of the unjustified disregard of the relationship between Peralta's journalistic profession and his murder.

Peralta was a journalist critical of the public administration in the region - where he worked for more than thirty years. His work involved denouncing irregularities in state contracting, oil extraction and corruption. His radio station, Linda Stereo - of which he was founder and director - was the platform through which he voiced his denunciations and provided the public with valuable information about authorities and officials.

For several months the governor of Quindío, Roberto Jaramillo, kept interfering in the editorial line of the public television channel Telecafé. He called the attention of journalists on the way information was being presented in the Telecafé Noticias slot.

Nubia Martínez - national director of the political party Centro Democrático - referred to the journalists of Noticias Caracol as "militants" and assured that this newscast disseminates "false news against former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez."

One month after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered protective measures in favor of journalist Ricardo Calderón, the Colombian State has not implemented actions to guarantee his life and integrity - nor has it taken measures against the National Army.

On August 19, 2020, the four United Nations Special Rapporteurs and the IACHR Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression expressed their concern to the Colombian Government regarding the Army's surveillance and profiling activities - considering that such activities put journalists at an elevated risk and interfere with the course of their work.

Arlex Piedrahita - a journalist from Noticias Caracol - had to go into exile after receiving new threats. On October 16, Piedrahita received a text message to his cell phone declaring him a military target and threatening him and his family with death. The threats were allegedly related to his work on judicial issues and drug trafficking in the departments of Valle del Cauca and northern Cauca.

On October 27, journalist Mario Manuel Ubarnes was threatened. A black bag containing a funeral wreath was left at his house in San Antonio de Palmito, Sucre. Ubarnes hosts a program at the community radio station Palmitos Estéreo - where he has recently reported on cattle theft in the region and on irregularities related to contracting in the municipal administration.

On October 15, journalist Omar Martínez received a threat. According to Martínez, an acquaintance told him that someone called and asked him to tell the journalist to "keep quiet and stop attacking the mayor's office" and that there was a plan to attempt on his life. Martínez publishes a weekly video column on his Facebook profile about the municipal administration and the actions of public officials in Caucasia.

Of concern is a bill that seeks "protective measures for the fundamental right to honor, good name, personal and family privacy and image," and which says, in the explanatory statement, that it intends to "resolve the conflict between fundamental rights consisting of the protection of the right to honor and good name, and the application of rights to freedom of expression and press."

The bill seeks to create rules to define when one right prevails over another and to create an a priori judgment, which would replace the deliberation of a constitutional judge in matters of proportionality between constitutional principles - which is decisive when defending the right to freedom of the press and of expression.

Another project that "regulates advertising on social networks and contains other provisions," establishes that some forms of commercial messages on social networks are prohibited. There is concern that this bill may modify the rules of social networks in order to establish broader grounds for prohibition. The bill empowers the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce to penalize people for incurring in any of these behaviors - generating a new way to limit freedom of expression, under a discourse of consumer rights.

This period saw the expiration of the statute of limitations for the following murders of journalists, which took place in 2000: Juan Camilo Restrepo Guerra - murdered on October 31; Gustavo Ruiz Cantillo - murdered on November 15; Guillermo León Agudelo - murdered on November 30; and Alfredo Abad López - murdered on December 13 of that year.

Also close to expiration are the statute of limitations for the crimes against journalists Flavio Iván Bedoya, Yesid Marulanda Romero, Edgar Tavera Gaona, Pablo Emilio Parra Castañeda, Arquímides Arias Henao, Jorge ("Jose") Enrique Urbano Sánchez, José Duviel Vásquez, Eduardo Estrada Gutiérrez and Álvaro Alonso Escobar.