Colombian organization asks authorities for speedy investigation of death threats against journalists

Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, for its acronym in Spanish) called on the Attorney General and the Ministry of the Interior to promptly investigate recent death threats made against journalists in early September. These threats were made by an alleged paramilitary group Águilas Negras.

Senator Aída Avella Esquivel, who is also among those threatened, made the statement signed by Águilas Negras public on Sept. 4 on her Twitter account.

According to FLIP, between 2016 and 2018 there have been 14 threats from Águilas Negras against journalists in Colombia, seven of them during this year.

Sebastián Salamanca, lawyer and coordinator of the area of attention and defense of journalists of FLIP, told the Knight Center that the Águilas Negras do not say in their statement why they threaten to kill these journalists, congress members, organizations and human rights leaders, they only brand them as guerrillas and disguised militia members.

Among the journalists mentioned in the statement are Daniel Coronell, columnist for Semana magazine; Julio César González, cartoonist, and Jineth Bedoya, deputy editor of newspaper El Tiempo and contributor to the site La Silla Vacía, which was also threatened by the organization in July, according to FLIP. They, in addition to legislators, social organizations and human rights leaders, are declared by the Águilas Negras as "military objectives" for allegedly belonging to the guerrillas.

"For our organization there is no security scheme that prevents us from proceeding and ending each of these guerrillas (...) as of the date we will proceed to the total execution of our warnings," the message states.

According to Salamanca, it is very suspicious that a group – of whom the armed forces have not yet reported any activity, confrontation or presence or territorial control – is periodically making death threats to people who are exercising their freedom of expression and giving opinions or reporting on matters relevant to Colombians.

Senator Iván Cepeda Castro, who is also threatened with death in the message, and Colombian social researcher and political scientist Ariel Ávila have recently said that the Águilas Negras are not a paramilitary group, but a criminal group hired by third parties to intimidate social leaders and communities to defend private interests.

In a recent presentation before the House of Representatives of Parliament, Cepeda demanded that the Ministry of Defense clarify if it had evidence of the existence of the Águilas Negras and if it was known who its commanders were.

"That (the Águilas Negras) does not exist, it's a nickname, it's a name that is used to do covert operations," Cepeda said. And, he added: "We ask for clarity on that, that the Ministry of Defense tells us, if it has evidence of the existence of the Águilas Negras, (...) or if we are in the presence of what we saw in the eighties, that it was the proliferation of different names for paramilitary structures," the senator said.

Ávila, meanwhile, told the site Red Comunitaria de Medios that "the Águilas Negras" are a ghost that does not exist and behind them there are people who are not criminals.

Regarding journalists threatened by this alleged command, FLIP requested the National Protection Unit (UNP), an agency attached to the Ministry of the Interior, to grant the necessary protection measures to press professionals to safeguard their lives.

According to Salamanca, the UNP is already aware of this situation and what follows is to use a  risk study to determine what protection measures should be assigned by the State to journalists.

"Sometimes there is a request for an emergency procedure, where there is no waiting for a risk study, but the State unilaterally delivers a series of urgent measures to safeguard situations of imminent risk," said the representative of the FLIP.

In August of this year, the Águilas Negras threatened three journalists from different media through Facebook. In mid-July, after threatening Jineth Bedoya and La Silla Vacía for the first time this year, they also addressed María Jimena Duzán, Semana columnist. They threatened her with death via Twitter.