Colombian channel broadcasts video of Ecuadorian journalists abducted near the country’s border with Colombia

Two journalists with the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio and their driver, who authorities say were abducted on March 26 by FARC dissident groups, were shown alive in a video broadcast on Colombian station RCN. The abduction took place close to a military checkpoint in Mataje, in the Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas that borders the Colombian border, according to El Comercio.

The video, in which the three men are shown with their arms around each other and are linked by chains with padlocks like in the period of the FARC, was broadcast at dawn on April 3 during the news program on Colombian channel RCN, the website of that media outlet reported.

"Mr. President Lenin, our lives are in your hands," said one of the captive journalists, Javier Ortega (31), addressing the Ecuadorian president to inform him of the conditions demanded by his captors. "They only want the exchange of their three detainees in Ecuador for our lives, for our three lives, to go safe and sound to Ecuador, and also the cancellation of that agreement between Ecuador and Colombia to end terrorism,” El Comercio reported.

Photographer Paúl Rivas (45) and driver Efraín Segarra (60) are the other two press workers who have been abducted.

In an official statement, the Government of Ecuador vigorously rejected the mediatization of the video by the Colombian channel, for exposing their fellow citizens, RCN published. In its communication, the government again urged the national media to use information in a responsible manner "so that it does not harm family members or affect the investigation in any way.”

Ortega's father said he was outraged and sad to see his son chained in the video, Noticias RCN published. The relatives of the abducted men asked the authorities for the case to not be forgotten and said they were "impatient to receive more information," EFE reported.

The director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF, for its acronym in French) for Latin America, Emmanuel Colombié, told NTN24 that the "silence" of the Ecuadorian government has not contributed to accelerating the management of the men’s liberation. "With the disclosure of the video as proof of life we have seen that contrary to what was raised by Ecuadorian authorities, the conditions are not good, nor stable, and undermine human dignity," Colombié said.

The commander-in-chief of Colombia's military forces, General Alberto José Mejía, declared on March 28 that the group responsible for the abduction could be the "Óliver Sinisterra" group, Peruvian site El Comercio reported. This guerrilla group that was previously part of the FARC is allegedly headed by Walter Artízala, alias "Guacho," a young man under 25 years old specialized in explosives and drug trafficking. There is still no confirmation that they have been transferred to Colombian territory, according to El Comercio.

Noticias RCN published other fragments of the video on its social networks in which journalists also reported that the guerrillas threatened to continue their military attacks against civilians and soldiers in Ecuadorian territory if the Moreno government does not annul the agreement to fight terrorism that it made with Colombia, El Comercio reported.

After the abduction, a conglomerate of 500 Ecuadorian and Colombian journalists demanded that both governments resolve this conflict together, because this act of violence is a consequence “of the demobilization of the FARC,” Fundamedios published.

Since the abduction, numerous international organizations have joined the request for the governments of Ecuador and Colombia to work together to achieve the group’s release. According to the Ecuadorian organization Fundamedios, another 70 journalists, academics, activists and organizations that defend freedom of expression have directed this communication to the president of Ecuador and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos.

The director of Fundamedios, César Ricaurte, told NTN24 that this organized crime group of FARC dissidents "evidently operates from Colombia,” NTN24 reported. Therefore, he said, the governments of Ecuador and Colombia must take on the security problem that affects both countries and that "has to be answered by the two governments."

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its solidarity and extreme concern over the abduction of the Ecuadorian journalists and the driver. It also recalled that it is the obligation of States to provide protection to journalists and other persons who exercise their right to freedom of expression who are vulnerable to attacks in high conflict areas.

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.

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