By Liz Farmer*
Colombian reporters covering a coffee workers’ strike in the departments of Hulia and Tolima face violence from police forces and lack adequate protection, according to a March 8 letter from Reporters Without Borders to the country’s Interior Ministry.
The letter, addressed to Colombia’s Minister of Interior Fernando Carrillo Flórez, details the dangers and targeted attacks journalists have faced trying to cover the strike. It says that the violence is often by members of the mobile anti-riot force, ESMAD.
Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, said in the letter that in one instance ESMAD members threw tear gas grenades into a the building of Radio Garzón and hurt several employees, prompting the radio station to end broadcasts due to equipment damage.
“Reporters Without Borders requests that you assure the enforcement of the rights of journalists to cover demonstrations in person, to film, to take photographs and to interview those involved. Police agencies must commit themselves to respect the neutrality of news professionals,” Deloire wrote.
A number of journalism organizations have expressed their concern over the growing number of aggressions against journalists in Colombia. In its latest annual report, the Colombian Federation of Journalists (Fecolper) documented 135 aggressions against journalists last year, which included four killings, 36 reported threats and 24 harassment complaints.
More recently, journalist Juan David Betancur received a piece of mail with explosive materials, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists. This week, columnist Germán Uribe announced he would stop writing after a violent attack against him.
CPJ, Human Rights Watch and others have criticized Colombian officials for not doing enough to protect journalists doing dangerous work. In its 2013 World Report, Human Rights Watch quoted the U.S. State Department as saying “threats and attacks against human rights defenders, land activists, trade unionists, journalists and other vulnerable groups continued to be a concern…. Armed Forces and civilian authorities could do more to investigate allegations of collusion with illegal armed groups, which persist.”
* Liz Farmer is an undergraduate student in the course “Journalism in Latin America” at the School of Journalism in the University of Texas at Austin.
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.