2 June 2010

Journalists under surveillance by intelligence forces

A witch-hunt of journalists and activists critical of the government during outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's two terms in power has been detailed in a report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). "Chuzadas: Colombian media targeted by intelligence services" was released three days before presidential elections on 30 May after an RSF delegation visited Colombia from 16 to 20 May. At the same time, a delegation of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - Latin America and the Caribbean (AMARC-ALC) travelled to Colombia to determine the state of free expression and community radio.

President Uribe prided himself on creating security, while he colluded with paramilitaries to target critics, the RSF report explains. Uribe has been known for publicly vilifying journalists and saw journalists, opposition politicians and activists as a nuisance. Meanwhile, extra-judicial killings of civilians dressed in rebel uniforms were carried out under his watch to bolster the idea of victory over the guerrillas.

Uribe has been blamed for the corruption of his intelligence services - the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) - which has directed wire-tapping, acts of sabotage and intimidation at journalists.

Eighty members of parliament are facing charges with a quarter already in jail. The report says wire-tapping was run by military officials. And now, Uribe's former defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos, is the lead vote-getter in this week's elections.

Among those targeted were 16 journalists subject to phone-tapping, says the report. DAS took a particular interest in journalists Hollman Morris and Claudia Julieta Duque who were investigating the 1999 murder of editorialist and satirist Jaime Garzón. Journalists did not feel safe using any telecommunications and would meet face to face to share information.

Now, journalists continue to be vulnerable. "The results of these revelations were intimidating for the practice of journalism in itself and relations between journalists and their sources, while the press already suffered from marked self-censorship," said Andrés Morales, the director of the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

Currently, under the twisted guise of protection, former DAS agents working for security firms act as bodyguards for journalists under threat, and continue to monitor their clients for their former employer. Aware of being under surveillance by a mixed escort of DAS and police, one journalist said, "If you reject the security system it amounts to giving tacit permission for someone to kill you."

During AMARC-ALC's mission, delegates found that communities still suffer from the violent actions of state security forces, paramilitaries and the guerrillas, limiting free expression. None of these armed groups differentiate between military and civilian targets. Journalists are especially under threat as they may be suspected of being guerrilla sympathisers and targeted by paramilitaries or state forces. There is an urgent need to safeguard community-based radio stations, says AMARC-ALC.


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