Community radio journalist focused on peace-related issues is killed in southern Colombia

Colombian journalist José Libardo Montenegro, of the community radio station Samaniego Estéreo, was killed on the night of June 11 in the municipality of Samaniego, in the department of Nariño, in the southern part of the country.

According to information provided by the Government of Nariño to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, for its acronym in Spanish), the murder was committed by two hitmen on a motorcycle.

Montenegro focused on reporting news about the municipality and department through different programs on the station, according to what a colleague of the journalist told FLIP.

According to El Espectador, he recently dedicated himself to working on peace-related issues. The morning of his murder, Montenegro had given an interview to a colleague from a television program in which they discussed a meeting for peace that Montenegro was organizing for June 14 “for the defense of life and human rights in Samaniego,” FLIP reported.

Samaniego Estéreo is part of the Community Radio Stations for Peace and Coexistence project, which is supported in part by the European Union, and which seeks to strengthen the country’s community radio stations "for the construction of a Culture of Peace in the Territories," according to the description on its Twitter account.

The ambassador of the European Union in Colombia, Patricia Llombart, condemned the crime through her Twitter account. "We hope that with your voice the effort of a community that fights to build peace and coexistence will not be extinguished," Llombart wrote.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia also rejected the murder on Twitter. "We trust [that] authorities will investigate and sanction this crime," the organization wrote, adding that "attacking the press is to attack freedom of expression and democracy."

FLIP also joined this condemnation and requested a prompt investigation and punishment of those responsible. "FLIP asks the Office of the Prosecutor to consider the development of his journalistic work as a hypothesis of the investigation regarding the motives of the crime," it added.

The Colombian organization noted with concern a statement from the subcommander of the Nariño police who said that Montenegro made announcements through a loudspeaker around the municipality.

“The qualification of the Police is not only precarious but contradictory with the work that Montenegro carried out in the municipality. Although the relationship of the murder with the profession is in the process of being documented, there is not a single piece of evidence for the Police to disregard his status as a journalist," FLIP wrote. "When the authorities disregard the role of journalist, the official figures of registration and monitoring of the phenomenon of violence against the press can be affected. The impacts of this reaction – reckless – are sharpened in municipalities such as Samaniego, where the regional press is scarce and vulnerable.”

In fact, Samaniego Estéreo is the only community radio station in the municipality according to figures from FLIP’s Information Cartographies special report. "Samaniego is part of the 578 municipalities with a supply deficit of local information, or silenced zones,” FLIP wrote.

There are five media in the municipality in total: two belonging to security forces, a commercial radio station, a community television channel and the community radio station. Of all the media, there is only one news program and that is where Montenegro worked, according to FLIP’s report.

Coverage and defense of human rights can lead to danger in Colombia.

According to the Peace and Development Foundation, Fundepaz, 15 human rights defenders who have been murdered in Nariño this year, the department where Montenegro’s murder took place, El Tiempo reported.