Death threats force journalists to flee Colombia

Sixteen journalists have been forced to flee Colombia after receiving death threats in the wake of the killing of one of their colleagues.

Provincial radio reporter Luis Eduardo Alfonso, 29, was shot down in the street on his way to work in Arauca. On the day of his funeral, one of his colleagues received an anonymous warning: he had 12 hours to leave town or he would be the next to die. By the end of the month, a further 16 journalists had fled after receiving similar threats.

Alfonso received so many menacing phone calls that colleagues pleaded with him to “tone down” his show, and they eventually persuaded him to travel to the capital, Bogota, last July, to ask for police protection.

The police agreed to send the occasional patrol around to his house to reassure him but, according to colleagues, those visits petered out after a couple of weeks, and the police were nowhere to be seen when Alfonso set out to walk the three blocks from his house to the radio station on 18 March. He was confronted by two masked gunmen, on a motorcycle, who shot him three times in the head.

Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, according to the US-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists. Eight were murdered there last year, out of a total of 33 worldwide, according to the CPJ’s 2002 report. Colombia has been in a state of internal war for decades, and journalists have frequently been caught in the crossfire between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and government security forces.

By Colin Harding

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