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69 Journalists Attacked by Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia in 2023


Colombia attacks journalists illegal armed groups
69 attacks on journalists in Colombia by illegal armed groups – Photo: Nur Andi Ravsanjani Gus

The FundaciĆ³n para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) has reported 69 aggressions against journalists in Colombia by illegal armed groups in 2023 so far. Additionally, the organization has also stated that various media professionals have been “pursued, threatened, or intimidated” in 17 out of the country’s 32 departments.

Among the illegal armed groups identified as responsible for these acts, FLIP mentions some of the most well-known: Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) or Clan del Golfo, the ELN guerrilla, and various groups that belong to the dissidents of the former FARC, such as the Central High Command of the FARC, the Second Marquetalia, and Comandos de Frontera.

In response to these events, the non-governmental organization (NGO) has called on the government to take measures to prevent these manifestations of violence and ensure the safety of journalists. It’s worth noting that some of these groups (ELN and Central High Command of the FARC) are currently participating in peace talks with the government.

Violence on the Eve of Regional Elections

The foundation also wants to highlight that some of these acts of violence against journalists are occurring just days before the local and regional elections scheduled for Sunday, October 29. Specifically, until the end of September, 27 more aggressions have been documented compared to the previous regional elections in 2019.

Local media professionals are particularly vulnerable due to their work in communities and greater exposure to threats, coercion, or direct aggression in more rural areas.

According to FLIP, these groups aim to control what is published in local media by invading journalists’ physical and digital spaces. Another way they operate is by summoning journalists to meetings where they dictate what they can and cannot cover.

According to Jonathan Bock, the executive director of FLIP, these incidents affect “informational plurality and diversity of opinions in election coverage.” Threats are sent to professionals through pamphlets, WhatsApp messages, and even phone calls to their personal numbers.

The Risk of Reporting on Illegal Groups

FLIP’s report states that the pressures and threats from illegal groups affect the content of certain local and regional media. Jonathan Bock has stated that information related to security, electoral campaigns, armed conflict, drug trafficking, and politics has been canceled, precisely “because these topics are related to the presence and criminal activities of these groups.”

The report cites the case of TuluĆ” (Valle del Cauca), where “criminal groups like La Oficina and Los Cancerberos, who vie for control of this territory, have threatened at least ten journalists in the past four months. They have also summoned them to instruct them on how to carry out their work, especially in covering their actions and some political campaigns.”

In August, the Office of the Ombudsman warned that “the population of journalists is at risk in the context of regional elections” and provided recommendations aimed at deterring and controlling the threat.

Departments like Arauca, Huila, NariƱo, Norte de Santander, Valle del Cauca, and Putumayo are among those the Ombudsman identifies as places with a high or extreme electoral risk, and where violence against the press has increased significantly.

Colombia attacks journalists illegal armed groups
Jonathan Bock is executive director of FLIP – Credit: @googluck_Bock / X

FLIP’s Recommendations

In its report, FLIP makes a series of recommendations and calls on various stakeholders to mitigate the situation. They have asked local governments to provide support to journalists who have been threatened during the election day. They have also urged law enforcement to instruct media professionals on self-protection and ensure their safety.

FLIP calls on the Attorney General’s Office to expedite investigations into threats and other crimes against journalists in the electoral context. Finally, elected officials at the local and regional levels are urged to include strategies for preventing and addressing violence against journalists in their development plans.

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