Journalists and social leaders receive death threats in southwestern Colombia

Once more, Colombian authorities are investigating threats against journalists and social leaders distributed via pamphlets and signed with the name of a criminal group.

On March 28, an email with a pamphlet attached was sent to 25 addresses, including those of many journalists from local and national media outlets in the state of Cauca in southwest Colombia. It was signed by “Águilas Negras.”

“The following [xxx] are declared military targets, along with their families and associates,” the pamphlet read. “Servile journalists of castrochavismo we know are hidden in all media that serve a peace process where the treacherous [Colombian President Juan Manuel] Santos is delivering the country to narco-terrorism.”

The note then went on to list targets including professors and social activists, and gave those threatened a week to leave Cauca.

The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP for its acronym in Spanish) rejected the threats and called on national authorities to investigate the incident. Additionally, the organization urged the national government “to guarantee freedom of expression during dialogue with the FARC.”

According to W Radio, Todd Howland, representative in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said “we are taking this pamphlet seriously, we are analyzing the language to try to help the prosecution and police in the investigation.”

Colombian newspaper El País reported that Howland was visiting the city of Popayán in Cauca to present a report on human rights when news of the letter broke.

Authorities are evaluating the authenticity of the threats, according to Proclama del Cauca, which was among the media outlets that received the email. The news organization said that there have been attacks against social and indigenous leaders in Cauca in recent months.

Pamphlets featuring similar threats against journalists and social leaders circulated around the country in recent years.

For the greater part of the last century, Colombia has been home to fighting between state security forces, leftist guerrillas, drug cartels, criminal gangs and paramilitaries.

Despite the 2003 signing of a peace deal between the Colombian government and one of the largest paramilitary organizations, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), and subsequent demobilization of paramilitary groups, some continue to operate in the country. Bandas criminales, referred to as bacrim, also are active.

The Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), began peace negotiations in October 2012 to put a stop to fighting. However, a March 23, 2016 deadline for signing the long-awaited peace deal passed without an agreement.

And on March 30, the government and leaders of another guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced the opening of peace talks after 50 years of fighting.

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.