A string of anonymous death threats this week against prominent journalists in Colombia could seriously undermine press freedom in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.
The threats came on Monday in the form of funeral wreaths, accompanied by notes of condolence, delivered to the homes and offices of three well-known television and print journalists: Hollman Morris, Daniel Coronell and Carlos Lozano. So far, nobody has claimed responsibility for the threats.
Last night, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe condemned the threats, stating that he had given orders to increase the journalists’ security and investigate the events.
“We hope that President Uribe’s strong condemnation of the threats translates into immediate and concrete measures to protect these journalists and their families,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch. “The government must move swiftly to find, arrest and prosecute those responsible.”
One of the threatened journalists, Hollman Morris, is the 2005 recipient of a Hellman-Hammett award, conferred by Human Rights Watch for the risks he faces in covering human rights issues. Distinguished writers and journalists from around the world have received this award since its establishment over a decade ago.
Morris directs the highly acclaimed weekly television journal Contravia, which addresses some of the most difficult and controversial issues raised by Colombia’s internal armed conflict. Contravia has provided in-depth coverage of a wide array of problems, including atrocities committed by both right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas. Last year, Morris’s meticulous and thorough investigation of the assassination of fellow journalist Jaime Garzón brought to light new evidence later used by the court handling the case.
“The awarding of the Hellman-Hammett grant to Morris reflects the courage, professionalism, and seriousness with which he approaches his work,” said Vivanco.
Daniel Coronell, another of the threatened journalists, is the director of a widely watched news program, Noticias Uno. He is also a columnist for the weekly news magazine Semana.
Carlos Lozano, the third threatened journalist, is the director of Colombia’s communist newspaper, Voz.
Journalists and human rights advocates in Colombia are frequently targets of harassment, threats, and assassinations by armed groups and others for their work. According to a recent report by Reporters Without Borders, one journalist was killed, 28 were physically attacked, and 25 were threatened in Colombia in 2004. Such attacks and threats, in turn, can produce a chilling effect on the media.
“A democratic society depends on a vibrant press that is free from harassment and intimidation,” said Vivanco. “Attacks and threats against journalists harm Colombia and endanger its democracy.”