Government of Ecuador confirms deaths of two journalists and driver from newspaper El Comercio, kidnapped by FARC dissidents

"With deep regret, I regret to report that the assassination of our compatriots has been confirmed," Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno wrote on his Twitter account on the early afternoon of Friday, April 13. The president publicly confirmed the death of the two journalists and the driver from newspaper El Comercio, who were kidnapped at the end of March by a dissident group of the FARC.

Journalist Javier Ortega (32), photographer Paúl Rivas (45) and driver Efraín Segarra (60), employees of the Ecuadorian newspaper, were abducted on March 26 in Mataje, in the Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas, adjacent to Ecuador’s northern border with Colombia. The abduction, as authorities of both countries confirmed shortly after, was perpetrated by the Oliver Sinisterra Front, a dissident group of the FARC commanded by Walter Arizala, alias "Guacho.”

After declaring the country to be in mourning, the Ecuadorian president reported that military security operations have been resumed in the area of the abduction that had been suspended to protect the lives of the hostages, El Comercio published. He also set a reward of US $100,000 for any information leading to the whereabouts of Walter Arizala, the Ecuadorian newspaper published.

On the morning of April 13, the Colombian channel RCN received a statement signed by the Directorate of the Óliver Sinisterra Front in which the guerrilla group requested that necessary humanitarian efforts be made to collect the bodies, Fundamedios reported.

Moreno announced that they are already coordinating the rescue of the bodies with peace actors such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, El Comercio reported.

News of the possible executions of the abducted journalists and driver started to circulate on April 11, when the Oliver Sinisterra group spread a note on social networks in which it said it had killed the abductees and blamed the governments of Ecuador and Colombia, Infobae reported at the time.

"Make it known to the public and the family members of the three detainees that the government of Ecuador and the ministry of Colombia did not want to save the lives of the three detainees," they said in the statement. "They did it by military means, making landings at several points where the men were held, which resulted in the death of the two journalists and the driver," the message continued, according to Infobae.

Ecuador's interior minister, César Navas, denied at the time that military maneuvers had been carried out alongside negotiations with the armed group to rescue the abductees, El Telégrafo reported.

At about 1:30 pm on Thursday, April 12, the channel RCN received three photographs of the hostages’ alleged bodies, the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP) of Colombia reported.

The channel RCN –which published a proof of life video ten days ago showing the journalists in captivity– delivered this material to FLIP, and around 3:00 pm on April 12, the foundation handed them over to the Colombian government, according to FLIP. At the same time, the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of Media (Fundamedios) of Ecuador notified the government of their country about the existence of the photographs in question and also sent the material to the families of the hostages, according to the FLIP.

On April 12, after learning about the photographs, the Ecuadorian president said via his Twitter account that he was leaving the Summit of the Americas in Lima to return to Quito accompanied by the relatives of the hostages. Moreno gave a 12-hour ultimatum to the guerrilla group to show him a conclusive proof of life of the hostages, otherwise he would attack the area militarily with the support of the Colombian armed forces, FLIP published.

The relatives of the hostages arrived in Lima, Peru, on the night of Wednesday, April 11, to seek a meeting with the Ecuadorian president regarding their case and to achieve greater international visibility of their situation, according to the Peruvian site Publimetro. They called for increased diplomatic efforts with the Colombian government to secure the release of their loved ones, the site reported.

In a resolution issued on the morning of April 12, the IACHR requested "the governments of Ecuador and Colombia to adopt the necessary measures to safeguard the lives and personal integrity of Javier Ortega Reyes, Paúl Rivas Bravo and Efraín Segarra Abril", El Comercio published.

At the time, FLIP condemned that both governments had not done enough nor resorted to international organizations, or institutions such as the Catholic Church, to mediate with the abductees to achieve the timely release of the journalists and driver.

Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and ISOJ, opened the 19th International Symposium of Online Journalism (ISOJ) on April 13 expressing sadness upon hearing news of the murders.

“This morning I start on a very sad note because a journalist from Ecuador has just told me that Ecuadorian journalists who had been kidnapped in Colombia have been assassinated,” Alves said.

The director called for justice for those killed and for the crime to not remain unpunished, as happens with many murders of journalists in Latin America and around the world.

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.

More Articles