The Foundation for Freedom of the Press has warned journalists in Colombia to exercise special caution, during a tumultuous week of social protests across the country.
FLIP, a nongovernmental organization that tracks violations against press freedom in Colombia, released a video this week out of concern for journalists on the ground covering the country’s agrarian strikes, emphasizing Colombia’s history of violence against the press.
The video gives specific recommendations to journalists in order to help them do their job while minimizing physical risk. Advice includes “wearing clothes that will not be confused with those worn by the Armed Forces,” “drop to the floor at the first gunfire,” and “always carry papers proving you are a journalist.”
May 1: Journalist detained while covering march
Esteban Vanegas, a photographer for Colombian newspaper El Colombiano, was covering the May 1 marches in Medellin on Thursday when he was arrested in San Antonio Park just after midday, and taken in an armoured police vehicle to a detention center. According to Colombian LA FM, several witnesses reported seeing police firing paintball guns at a group of protesters.
Vanegas tweeted, “just stopped by the police while doing my job as a photographer. I am in an ESMAD tank. I am fine but I don’t know where (the police) are taking me.” He included a photo of himself displaying his official press card to the camera. Vanegas was eventually released after midnight.
According to newspaper El Colombiano, the Commander of the Metropolitan Police, General Jose Angel Mendoza, said that the march proceeded peacefully until noon when a group of protestors began causing damage to public property, at which point the police stepped in. Amid the clashes, 15 people were arrested for alleged vandalism, including “a young media journalist.”
According to the Ministry of Security of the Municipality of Medellín, Vanegas had assaulted a police several minutes before he was apprehended – something which various witnesses, including Q’hubo journalist, Andrea Torres, dispute. In footage filmed by cameraman Jorge Oquendo from Hora 13 Noticias, Vanegas is seen surrounded by five policemen and grabbed from behind
A press release from the Journalism Association of Antioquia (APA) stated they consider the treatment of Vanegas to be illegal detention and a violation of his right to freedom of expression, and ask that all legal charges against him are dropped.
40 attacks on the press in 2013
According to FLIP, in 2013 there were more than 40 attacks on journalists covering social protests reported within a period of only 90 days. “This shows that during the demonstrations, correspondents face several risks, such as being physically assaulted, arrest, and even death.”
FLIP also reported that, due to the recent Colombian legislative elections, a further 36 violations have been made against journalists and the press in March and April 2014. These include blocking journalists from access to information and intimidation by telephone, disallowing them the right to freedom of expression.
On March 9, the day that Colombia’s legislative elections were held to choose the 268 congressmen for the next four years, FLIP documented 12 violations, most of which affected access to and dissemination of public information.
Colombia has an armed conflict for 50 years, who participated in the leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, drug gangs and government forces. Research carried out by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) shows that Colombia has historically been one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, with 44 journalists killed for their work since 1992.
In 2012, Colombia was condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IAHCR) by the events in the case of journalist Richard Velez. In 1996, Velez was covering the Coca marches in the department of Putumayo when he was assaulted by army for filming soldiers beating protesters.
The IAHRC filed a case against Colombia, where there is widespread violence against journalists, and ultimately ordered the government to train members of the security forces so that these events do not recur.
However, says FLIP, the call to the state has not been enough. Journalists are still attacked, detained and murdered while covering demonstrations.
- Liberan al fotografo Esteban Vanegas (El Colombiano)
- Denuncian aumento de agresiones a la prensa en periodo electoral (El Espectador)
- Libertad de prensa, silenciada en marcha obrera (El Colombiano)
- Balance Marzo – Abril de 2014: Las elecciones disparan el número de agresiones contra la prensa (Fundacion para la Libertad de Prensa)
- Attacks on the Press in Colombia 2013 (Committee to Protect Journalists)