Organizations demand Colombian police investigate attack on commission and death of indigenous journalist

The Colombian National Police is being accused of potentially being responsible for two separate attacks on press freedom on Oct. 8.

Organizations like the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP for its acronym in Spanish) and the Colombian Federation of Journalists (Fecolper) urge authorities to investigate the cases and punish those responsible.

One of the attacks took place on Sunday afternoon in the village of Tandil, near the municipality of Tumaco, in the department of Nariño, where police had fired guns and stun grenades against a commission accompanied by journalistic teams from Semana magazine, El Espectador, Contagio Radio, Vice Colombia/Pacifista and City Tv/El Tiempo, according to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, for its acronym in Spanish).

The humanitarian commission, made up of members of different international organizations such as the UN, OAS and local authorities like the Government of Nariño, went to investigate the massacre of six farmers which took place in Tumaco on Oct. 5 and whose authorship is also attributed to the National Police, according to a report from the Ombudsman.

According to Semana magazine, the police were on top of a mountain and when the commission began to approach they began to shout for them to leave, that “they cannot be” there. Although the members of the commission were identified with vests and the members of the Government shouted that they could not shoot, the police sent tear gas, stun guns and they also heard shots, the magazine added.

The National Police issued a statement in which it regretted the situation and said that officers activated two stun grenades "that did not cause injuries" after an "undetermined number of people" tried to forcefully enter a temporary base where illegal crops were being eradicated. In the statement it also offered public apologies and said it was willing to cooperate in the necessary investigations.

The FLIP issued a statement in which it affirmed that the explanations of the Police "are insufficient" and that the institution "lacks truth.” It demanded that the aggression be investigated and that corresponding sanctions be established, among other demands.

"This is a serious case in which there is a possibility of police cover-up for serious denunciations against them, or the deployment of negligent and arbitrary police officers who are unaware of basic standards of necessity and proportionality in the use of force," FLIP said.

The Colombian Federation of Journalists (Fecolper) said that there are several local journalists and correspondents in Tumaco who assured it that "the atmosphere in the area is of total silence in the face of what is happening, there is no press access to the hospital, the victims and the families are not found in [Tumaco].”

After learning about this aggression, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza, wrote in his Twitter account that the "Colombian Police must incorporate protection of journalists in critical areas and protests. They are the ones who investigate and report on conflicts."

The FLIP emphasized that in the last year it has registered 18 cases in which the police and military forces have attacked the press. Of these cases, eight have occurred during coverage of social demonstrations, it said.

Also on Oct. 8, but in the department of Cauca, indigenous communications worker  Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo died after clashes between members of Pueblo Kokonuko and agents of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (Esmad) of the National Police.

According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the confrontation took place when the indigenous community tried to enter a land that they claim as their own, but that is used for tourism, reported site RCN.

Indigenous authorities told FLIP that the communicator died in the hospital after being transferred as a result of injuries caused by long-range weapons.

“FLIP is verifying if Vásquez was doing journalistic work during the events," the organization said and added that the communicator was recognized for her extensive career in Cauca indigenous media. "The FLIP highlights the work of indigenous and community media in the regions of the country."

Fecolper said it was informed that the communicator usually accompanied the demonstrations "to find out the facts and to collaborate with information on the radio station Renacer Kokonuko 90.7 FM.”

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.