Three journalists murdered in 2019 amid high levels of aggression against press

A new report by Colombia’s Foundation for Press Liberty (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa, FLIP) has documented high levels of aggression towards Colombian journalists in 2019. The figures include three murders and eleven cases of journalists forcibly displaced from their homes due to threats.

Colombia consistently sees high levels of aggression towards journalists, with a rise in recent years. The report finds that, from 2017 to 2019, there were threats made against 583 people, compared with 257 from 2014 to 2016. Despite the signing of the 2016 peace agreement, journalists have been targeted more regularly.

This saw three murders committed in 2019. On 9 May, filmmaker Mauricio Ledazma was killed in Arauquita, northeast Colombia, while working on a documentary about conflict victims. The following month, Libardo Samaniego, who covered the peace process, was killed in the Nariño region of southern Colombia. On 18 October, the director of the Radio Planeta network, Javier Córdoba Chaguend, was killed.

A number of journalists were also forced to leave Colombia due to threats. Eduardo Manzano, Fransua Martínez and Alexander Cárdenas went into exile after receiving threats over their investigating of the drugs trade. A US journalist, Nicholas Casey of the New York Times, also left Colombia because of threats he received after revealing that Colombia’s military had ordered higher kill counts from soldiers and reduced ‘terms of engagement’ as a result. The resulting scandal saw politicians baselessly accuse Casey of being a ‘FARC sympathiser’. The article’s photographer, Federico Ríos, was also subjected to intimidation.

At least eleven journalists were forcibly displaced in 2019. Natalie Cabrera was forced to leave her home in Nariño in September, while Pablo Navarrete was driven from his Valle del Cauca home in November. Both worked on issues related to peace and human rights. At least 33 journalists were threatened via social media and digital networks.

Independent media organisations were also targeted. In November, online magazine Cartel Urbano was raided by authorities, who alleged explosive material to be used in National Strike protests was being stored on the premises. Nothing was found. The magazine’s communications were also hacked, as were those the University of the Andes’ in-house magazine, Cerosetenta. Colombian police also ordered Cerosetenta to remove a published article which gave advice on self-protection from police violence on demonstrations. Other violations included the security services’ illegal hacking of journalists and human rights groups that was revealed in weekly magazine, Semana.

‘In scenarios where journalists need to keep their sources anonymous to have access to information of general interest, it is essential to guarantee the security of those who provide the information and those who subsequently disseminate. When reporters and their sources cannot be certain that this right is being guaranteed, they become involved in situations of fear that discourage them from developing informative activities’, said the report.

Download the Foundation for Press Liberty report (in Spanish)