Police committed 23% of aggressions against Colombian journalists in first months of 2014, FLIP says

By Diego Cruz

The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) in Colombia reported two recent aggressions against a journalist and a photographer by national police agents. These were added to the 57 attacks against the press registered during the first few months of 2014, of which 13, or 23 percent, were committed by police.

In 2013, police were also responsible for 23 percent of attacks against journalists, 28 aggressions from a total of 123 during the whole year. Both in 2013 and what has elapsed of this year this proportion of attacks was greater than those provoked by criminal gangs or guerrilla groups.

The two recent aggressions were directed against journalist Manuel Sánchez from the city of Cali and photographer Francisco Alvarado from the municipality of Chía.  The FLIP called these cases “extremely worrying” because they resulted in “illegal detentions, insults to journalists” and in one case the erasure of journalistic content.

Manuel Sánchez is a reporter for the television channel Canal C and was assaulted while covering protests by transportation workers in Cali on March 19. Sánchez, who is a cameraman, was recording police agents capturing a protester when they noticed him, took away his equipment, and detained him even though he identified himself as a member of the press.

During his detention, Sánchez was taken to police station La Flora, where he was beaten repeatedly, leaving him injured and incapacitated for 10 days, the journalist told FLIP. The police erased the photos from his camera and detained him in a judicial building, saying he had actively participated “in the damage created by protesters.”

The other attack registered was against Francisco Alvarado, a photographer for newspaper La Calle in the municipality of Chía on March 22. Alvarado took photos of a citizen being arrested by eight police agents. When they noticed the journalist, the officers insulted him and moved him to a local police station where he was detained for an hour and where the policemen continued insulting him.

Alvarado sought the aid of a municipal human rights office following these events but they told him they had “no authority to judge the actions of the police,” the FLIP said.

The FLIP contacted police authorities in both cities, which justified their actions saying the journalists had not collaborated with them and had “altered the public order.”

“The presence of the press in these kinds of events is not only legal but necessary,” the FLIP told the police in their pronouncement. “This is because journalists become witnesses of the facts and are the primary guarantors of appropriate actions on the part of the Police Force.”

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.