The Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP, for its initials in Spanish) denounced what it considered judicial harassment against Colombian journalist and columnist Daniel Coronell by the former president and current senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
According to FLIP, this “judicial harassment” against Coronell allegedly began after the journalist published a column with information about the former president in his weekly space in the magazine Semana. As a result of that column, Uribe Vélez decided to sue the journalist in the United States, it added, the country where Coronell currently lives. The organization did not specify which column it was.
It was the journalist himself who unveiled this civil lawsuit in his column on April 7, entitled ‘¿Por qué quieren silenciarme?’ (Why do they want to silence me?). In that column, according to FLIP, the journalist reported having evidence about how Uribe Vélez allegedly gave instructions on June 23, 2018 to "proceed with that guy very drastically" in reference to the journalist and the judicial process against him.
“It's a new and sophisticated form of censorship. They want to strangle me financially with the cost of defense in the United States and thus to persuade me to keep quiet is a good business. I will continue to do my duty," Coronell told the Knight Center.
"Since FLIP has monitored judicial cases against the press, this is the first time that evidence is registered about a public official's instruction to carry out this type of action against a journalist," the organization wrote in its statement. "In that sense, it is important to remember that organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have classified judicial harassment as a mechanism of indirect censorship."
In the past, Coronell was a victim of "stigmatizing reactions" that have already put him at risk, according to FLIP. The organization also noted as worrisome "the extent of censorship" that this judicial process may have and that these actions not only "may inhibit public debate," but also restrict journalistic work in the country.
"What is sought with this type of aggression, more than a conviction against journalists, is to intimidate them and subject them to the erosion of years of judicial defense," FLIP said in its statement. "In this case, in particular, it is also worrisome that judicial actions are triggered in other countries about public controversies relevant to Colombian democracy."
According to the organization, legal actions against journalists or media in retaliation for their work is known as 'strategic litigation against public participation.’
On his Twitter account, Coronell also said he was being victimized by a campaign with the aim of silencing him.
"As always, when a campaign of moral destruction is near, Twitter accounts begin to appear with 0, or very few followers, insulting. Deceitful polls that try to settle the truth and tricky papers to sully me. Nothing is new. #PorQueQuierenSilenciarme (#WhyDoTheyWantToSilenceMe)," the journalist wrote.
Senator Uribe's relationship with some journalists has been marked by scandal. In the past, FLIP noted cases of stigmatization against some columnists, including Coronell. In March 2018, a Bogotá court ordered Uribe to rectify accusations against Coronell.
The Knight Center tried to contact Senator Uribe through Twitter, but did not get a response as of publication of this post.