Authorities investigating new threat against Colombian journalists who were previously kidnapped by guerrilla group

By Heloisa Aruth Sturm and Teresa Mioli

Two Colombian reporters who were kidnapped by the National Liberation Army (ELN) in May have received threatening text messages supposedly signed by the ELN, according to a recent report from the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

Journalist Diego D’Pablos recently received a threatening text message on his cellphone saying that he and fellow Noticias RCN journalist Carlos Melo had been labeled as military targets. The message started with the name “Manuel Guevara of the Front Hector of the ELN.”

D’Pablos and Melo, along with Colombian-Spanish journalist Salud Hernández-Mora were kidnapped by the ELN in May 2016. They later were released, and, at the time, ELN said it respected freedom of expression.

RCN asked the Central Command of the ELN to verify the authenticity of the threat and urged the government to investigate.

Guillermo Rivera, the Minister of the Interior in-charge, said that the threats are likely to come from the ELN and assured that the government will protect the journalists.

“The Government believes that it is most likely that these threats come from the ELN, however, we are waiting for the competent authorities to indicate clearly where they come from, but wherever they are coming from, the government condemns them categorically and has already made decisions to immediately provide protection measures for the journalists,” Rivera said, according to RCN.

However, public official sources interviewed by RCN Radio claim that preliminary investigations suggest that the threats do not have the usual elements employed by the guerrilla group to intimidate their victims.

The Twitter account for the ELN’s radio station posted a statement denying any involvement in the case. “The ELN publicly denies people who cowardly and on behalf of our organization threaten D'Pablos Diego and Carlos Melo,” the group wrote on Twitter.

Amnesty International urged Colombian authorities to carry out a full investigation to determine the authorship of the threat, and emphasized that this could affect peace talks in that country.

According to Amnesty, the death threat “will do little to move forward stalled peace talks between the government and the National Liberation Army.”

“Such threats only serve to undermine the invaluable work of journalists in Colombia, who have long been the target of human rights abuses and violations by all the actors in Colombia’s long running armed conflict, including the security forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups,” the organization said in a statement.

FLIP and other organizations for freedom of expression criticized the “passivity of authorities to end this risk” and called on them to guarantee the safety of the journalists and increase their efforts to end impunity in the country.

“Impunity creates a climate of permissiveness to the actions of violence and censorship, like the threatening message sent to journalists from RCN,” the organization said. It added “the harassment to which journalists D'Pablos Diego and Carlos Melo are being subjected is a violation of freedom of the press that began with the kidnapping and increases with this threat.”

Despite of the threats received, D’Pablos said he will not leave the country. “We will stay here. We will not be intimidated because we have not done anything wrong and we will continue working and doing our work,” the Colombian journalist said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.