Overwhelming increase of threats against journalists in Colombia Copy

Formerly known as one of the countries with the highest number of journalists killed per year, Colombia is still far from solving its problems regarding of violence against the press. Despite having a governmental protection system and having reached to a peace agreement with FARC, its oldest marxist guerilla, an obvious element of violence, threats against journalists are alarmingly increasing. By september 2018, 152 cases of threats were reported by Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) in the whole year, a number that already exceeds the total of 129 cases reported in 2017.

These numbers are surrounded by a context of increasing violence in the whole country. Though the peace agreement reduced the overall amount of violent deaths and crimes in colombia, the killings of social leaders and human rights defenders reaches 123 cases in 2018. Moreover, areas where non-alligned members of FARC are taking command of local crime have turned into centres of violence. An example of this is what happened with a group of 3 media workers from ecuadorian journal El Comercio, who were kidnapped and murdered by a group of former members of FARC in the border between Colombia and Ecuador.  

Most of the cases regarding attacks to the press are against journalists who were covering corruption in local administrations and journalists referring to the functioning of illegal groups. While the majority of cases are perpetrated via Whasapp or emails, there is an increase of threats coming on social media as Facebook or Twitter.

On 2 August 2018, Colombian authorities issued a joint statement regarding the increase of threats.They rejected this increase of threats and affirmed their compromise in acting against attacks upon journalism. On 23 August, Colombian government and the General Procurator (a body with constitutional functions of protecting human rights and undertake disciplinary vigilance over public servers), the General Prosecutor and the Ombudsman signed an agreement for the protection of of the life of human rights defenders and social leaders. Among the points of this agreements are the creation of public policies and a reform to the National Protection Unit.

Reform to the protection system has been constantly recalled by FLIP. There is a need to change the approach that the National Protection Unit gives to territorial issues, coupled with a necessity to build more robust preventive measures. Moreover, FLIP has also emphasized that the current configuration of the protection system lacks a judiciary approach. While the General Prosecutor’s office has a seat in the different instances regarding protection, its function is merely advisory. The circumstances require a stronger connection between the risk assessment and implementation of protective measures with actions by the judiciary.

As has been noted by FLIP, the amount of sanctions for threatening journalists is too low compared with the amount of cases that come every year. This is coupled with a disencouraging impunity on killings of journalists, with a 79.2% of cases barred by their statute of limitations. Furthermore, there is only one case where Colombian justice sanctioned all the members of a criminal enterprise who plotted to and successfully murdered a journalist.

The judiciary has taken some relevant steps, but they are still far from fulfilling the ever increasing demand. While the General Prosecutor has announced the identification of some perpetrators of threats online, this only reflects a limited percentage of the cases. Moreover, on August 2018, Colombian administrative justice condemned the Colombian Government for not bringing proper protection to journalist Edison Molina, killed in September 2013. This is added to the 58 year sanction given by a Criminal Court in February 2018 to the gunman who killed journalist Luis Peralta and his wife in February 2015. However, both cases are still lacking an identification and prosecution of the criminal minds.

Furthermore, there are local authorities with functions and faculties in fighting violence against journalists. An example of this are local majors, who are the main respondents with regards to the safety at their jurisdictions. Taking this into account, local mayors have to publish information in which they acknowledge their rejection of attacks against colombian network.

Many of the deficiencies in the protection of journalists in Colombia come after the country was condemned by the Inter American Court go Human Rights for not giving  adequate protection to Nelson Carvajal. Some steps have been taken to be outside of such low standards, but the path is still long.