Head of Journalist’s Federation Visits UK

Justice For Colombia News | on: Sunday, 6 April 2008

Eduardo Marquez Gonzalez, the President of the Colombian Federation of Journalists, has ended a highly successful visit to the UK during which time he addressed the annual conference of the British National Union of Journalists (NUJ) as well as a meeting arranged by Justice for Colombia and Thompsons Solicitors on the plight of political prisoners in Colombia. Mr Marquez Gonzalez was accompanied by his colleague, Karen Cepeda, who is currently working with the International Federation of Journalists.

Today both visitors spoke at the NUJ conference in Belfast where the assistance that the NUJ gave in establishing the Colombian Federation was also highlighted. Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ, who is also the Chair of Justice for Colombia, explained that "It is imperative that journalists around the world support our colleagues in countries, such as Colombia, where they are under attack simply for carrying out their normal professional duties. It is clear that the Colombian regime has little respect for human rights and the ongoing verbal attacks by President Uribe himself against reporters that cover issues not to his liking, and the death threats that follow, show the regime's lack of respect for the profession."

Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries on earth for journalists with 140 having been killed between 1989 and 2007 – a rate of about seven each year. Many others have been forced to flee the country as a result of their work. During his visit Mr Marquez Gonzalez explained how "in the past few years, the worst pressure has come from corrupt politicians who use the war to their advantage and use it to eliminate us."

He also explained that the Federation is "called a 'federation' rather than a 'union' partly so as not to attract the attention of the rightwing paramilitaries". He went on to describe how those that attack journalists in Colombia usually get away without punishment, "There have been investigations, but we know of only seven that were solved. In four cases, the paramilitaries confessed because they wanted to obtain benefits from what the government calls the peace and reconciliation process."

"When journalists tell the authorities of the threats received," he continued, "usually nothing is done. One of the presidents of our organisation, in Huila, in the south, had to flee the city because he was covering a case involving corruption connected to money that was meant for the health service."

Marguez Gonzalez also indicated that have a link with an international organisation like the NUJ acted as "a sort of shield" for the Federation. This was needed he said because "after we launched a campaign against a law to increase the penalties for libel, two guys with hoods arrived in the building and tried to get into our office."

In March it was announced that Mr Marquez Gonzalez would be awarded the 'Julio Anguita Parrado' International Prize – a prize recognising the work of journalists who are protecting human rights that is named after the Spanish journalist Julio Anguita Parrado, who was killed in Iraqi in 2003. Tomorrow he will travel to Cordoba in Spain where the prize will be presented on the fifth anniversary of the journalist's death.

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