By Alejandro Martínez
During the forum "Journalists: harm, memory and healing" on Feb. 8, in Bogota, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recognized the work of renowned journalist Hollman Morris. For the journalist, who former-president Álvaro Uribe accused of being allied with the FARC and had been followed by state intelligence agents, the acknowledgement could mark an positive turn in his relationship with the government.
Referring to the Harvard University Nieman Fellowship that both Santos and Morris received at different moments, the president said: "Hollman Morris, you are a great journalist and were even in the same program I was at Harvard University. It was the best year of my life, I don't know if it was the best of yours, but here I'd like to recognize you. You are a great journalist and I hope you continue practicing journalism."
Morris said that the president's appreciation was an "act full of symbolism" and the beginning of a healing process after several years replete with threats and attacks on him, reported the newspaper El Espectador.
"The beginning of the healing was when President Juan Manuel Santos recognized my good name, that of my family and my work. Today, I'm thankful for his gesture but obviously the call for justice continues. Those who threatened my children, my family, my wife, who singled us out and stigmatized us and unleashed a ferocious criminal hunt by the DAS [Administrative Security Department, DAS in Spanish] against us, they will have to answer before the courts, only then can impunity be fought and justice served," Morris said at the forum, according to the Diario del Huila.
Morris, who has received several awards and acknowledgments during his long professional career, has been an unflagging critic of the government in his coverage of violence in the Andean country. He and his family suffered death threats and illegal wiretapping by the DAS during the Uribe presidency.
Uribe also accused the journalist of sympathizing with the FARC guerrillas. In 2010, the United States rejected Morris' visa application after he received an invitation from the Nieman Foundation. The organization led an international campaign to persuade the State Department to reverse its decision.
Despite the threats against him, Morris returned to Colombia last year at the end of his Nieman fellowship to lead the public television channel Canal Capital in Bogota. In November, Morris refused to hand over a list of gay employees working at the station requested by a Bogota city councilman.
Comments made by Santos and Morris took place during the forum "Journalism: harm, memory and healing" that took place in Bogota, the capital, on Jan. 8, in memory of several press freedom violations in the country. While the situation in Colombia is not as dire as in some other Latin American countries, like Mexico, Honduras or Brazil, the country continues to be one of the most dangerous in the region for journalists, especially in outlying areas.
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.