Colombia - Paramilitary threats against journalists in Santander department show predators have not disarmed



    MONTREAL, Jan. 23 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders calls for
greater vigilance by the authorities after threats and intimidation,
apparently by paramilitaries, against journalists in Barrancabermeja, in the
northern department of Santander, especially Alvaro Pérez Vides, the head of
community TV station Tele Petroleo, and Diro César Gonzalez, the editor of the
regional daily La Tarde.
    "Those who prey on the press have not disarmed," the press freedom
organisation said. "Despite the demobilisation of the United Self-Defence
Groups of Colombia (AUC) from June 2003 to June 2006, the paramilitaries
continue to pose a grave threat to civil liberties, especially in the
provinces."
    Reporters Without Borders added: "Pérez has a bodyguard and Gonzalez is
being protected by the interior ministry but this unfortunately does not
remove the threat. As 'demobilised' paramilitaries infiltrate society,
judicial actions pending against them need to be speeded up. Investigative
work is also needed involving both the authorities and civil society,
including the press."
    Pérez was alerted twice by his bodyguard about the presence of
paramilitaries around his home and the premises of the Barrancabermeja-based
TV station he runs, Tele Petroleo. Two men on a motorcycle and three in pickup
took up position outside the entrance to the station on 21 January.
    Notified by the bodyguard, members of the Department for Security
Administration (DAS), an intelligence agency, arrested the three in the pickup
(one of whom was a minor) and quickly identified them as demobilised AUC
members. In the absence of an arrest warrant, the DAS released them.
    When the bodyguard came to collect Pérez the next day, he noticed
individuals watching the house. Neighbours told Pérez the surveillance had
been going on for several days. Their attire (ponchos and long boots of the
kind used in marshes) was the same as that worn by the men outside Tele
Petroleo. Some paramilitaries are recognisable by this kind of dress.
    Pérez attributes these threats to the judicial proceedings that were
begun after his brother was murdered in 2006. Pérez has often spoken
critically on the air this year about the presence of paramilitaries from the
Bloque Central Bolivar (one of the AUC's branches) in some of
Barrancabermeja's neighbourhoods. Paramilitaries have on occasions turned up
unannounced at the TV station demanding to take it over. His family has also
been threatened.
    Gonzalez has also been targeted by paramilitaries and has been getting
protection from the interior ministry for more than a year. His wife has
nonetheless receiving threatening calls in recent weeks describing his
movements. In November, he received a small bottle in the mail apparently
containing blood and a death notice naming him as the deceased. Two months
before that, a 9 mm bullet was found outside the door of his office.
    Twenty murders have been committed in Barrancabermeja since the start of
the month in a new crime wave. Local human rights groups said: "The situation
of the media is becoming increasingly tense because the victims (of violent
crime) or those close to them do not want these cases reported at the national
level." Alluding to the paramilitaries, the human rights groups added that
"the police and judicial authorities are doing nothing to investigate these
people."




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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