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Colombian judge issues arrest warrant for leaders of the ELN guerrilla group for kidnapping of journalists

A Colombian judge ordered the arrest of the Central Command (Coce) of the guerrilla group known as the National Liberation Army (ELN for its acronym in Spanish) for the kidnappings of six journalists and a driver this past May, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The prosecution accused the members of the Coce of the crimes of rebellion and extortive kidnapping because he considered them to be the "most responsible for this apparatus of power, kidnapping being a policy of the criminal organization, where they the issue guidelines and others materialize them.”

On May 21, the Colombian-Spanish journalist Salud Hernández Mora disappeared while in the municipality of El Tarra, in the department of Norte de Santander, to carry out journalistic work on the eradication of illicit crops, among other issues.

Although her editors did not have information from the journalist starting on May 21, they did not report her disappearance until May 23 because they thought that she was simply unable to communicate.

After learning of her disappearance, local and national journalists were mobilized to the area to find out what happened to Hernández Mora. However, it later became known that at least five journalists were detained by a group of armed men who took their documents and equipment, as reported by El Espectador.

Some were released immediately, but journalists of Noticias RCN Diego D’Pablos and Carlos Melo remained kidnapped.

Although it was suspected from the beginning that the kidnapping was carried out by the ELN, the information was confirmed only a few days later. The journalists were eventually released late on May 27.

The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) of Colombia considered the recent court decision to be positive and said it hoped to establish the whereabouts of those responsible.

"The Foundation hopes that the prosecution is speedy in the other investigations being conducted related to violence against journalists. Punishing crimes against the press contributes to creating a favorable environment so that these events are not repeated,” according to the FLIP statement.

It also reminded the authorities of the importance of providing protection to journalists who were in captivity and sources with which they had contact.

The organization recalled that after being released, some of the journalists reported receiving threats and added that it is "concerned that a situation of vulnerability will be exploited by the guerrilla group to attack them for their reports." At the time, the ELN said it respected freedom of expression and denied being responsible for these threats.

The arrest warrant was issued during the same week in which Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the government would continue the public phase of peace talks with the ELN on condition that the group releases its hostages.

According to Semana magazine, the prosecution continued with other investigations against the ELN including "4,894 kidnappings, 930 illegal recruitments, 5,391 homicides, 2,989 forced displacements, 87 cases of gender-based violence and 1,450 violations of international humanitarian law (IHL)."

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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