Two murders in a month raise concerns about safety of journalists in Colombia

By Carolina Peredo

The assassination of two Colombian journalists in less than one month has again alarmed the country’s press, which has not forgotten the darker years when – due to drug trafficking and other criminal groups – the number of journalists killed because of their work was high.

As conditions worsen, various national and international organizations such as the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) of Colombia, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), among others, have publicly demanded that these crimes be investigated in an “exhaustive” manner, preventing impunity.​

The most recent case was that of Radio Luna journalist Edgar Quintero, who suffered at least six gun shot wounds from an unknown assailant March 2 in the city of Palmira, in the department of Valle del Cauca – located in southwest Colombia.​The attack took place when Quintero was in a bakery near the radio station where he had worked for over 20 years.

Quintero hosted a program named ‘Noticias y Algo Más’ (News and Something More) on Radio Luna, where he “often criticized local government and police officers and discussed sensitive issues like corruption,” according to FLIP and CPJ interview with a local journalist.​

In the wake of the murder, police have offered a reward of 50 million Colombian pesos (about US $20,000) and created a special team to investigate the motives behind the homicide.

A few days before this murder, journalist Luis Carlos Peralta Cuellar, director and owner of the radio station Linda Stereo – a station linked to Colombian giant Caracol Radio – died after suffering at least six gun shot wounds. The incident took place February 14 in the city of Doncello, a department of Caquetá – located in the northeast of the Amazon – outside his home, which served as his station’s office. Peralta’s wife was also injured in the attack.

The director’s colleagues noted that Peralta had mentioned receiving threats, but they did not know where the threats had come from and did not know whether Peralta had notified the authorities. According to the FLIP, the organization documented the police deactiving explosives outside Peralta’s station in 2010. Authorities continue to investigate whether his murder was linked to his mayoral candidacy, which the journalist announced just a few days before his assassination, or to allegations of local corruption he made on his station.

For this crime, local police also offered a reward of 50 million Colombian pesos and on March 3, authorities reported the capture of Peralta’s alleged killer.

The deaths of Quintero and Peralta join those of hundreds of journalists killed in Colombia in recent years. According to figures published by FLIP in early 2015, it is estimated that 142 Colombian journalists have been killed since 1977, of which 67 cases have expired.

“The authorities must act immediately to guarantee the security of all Colombian journalists and to ensure that these cases do not become the latest examples of Colombia’s lamentable record of impunity,” said Carlos Lauria, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas.

*Héctor Pérez, a student in the class "Journalism and Press Freedom in Latin America" at the University of Texas at Austin, contributed to this article.

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.