Violence against the press in Colombia in 2022: Scant progress amid attacks by armed groups and public servants

  • By
  • February 9, 2023

*By FLIP (Colombian Press Freedom Foundation) - Originally published on its digital magazine, fifth edition


During 2022, we witnessed judicial advances that protected freedom of the press. However, Colombian journalism faced increasing violence by armed groups and an election season in which political leaders stigmatized media and journalists. Finally, in the last semester of the year we witnessed the death of two journalists in Córdoba and Nariño. This is an overview of the milestones that marked press freedom in 2022 in Colombia. 

1. Peak of attacks against the press in Arauca

At the beginning of 2022, the state of Arauca experienced a peak in violence against the press. In the first week alone, nine harassments of journalists by illegal armed groups were reported in the municipalities of Arauca and Saravena. Later, on Jan. 19, a car bomb damaged the infrastructure of two news outlets in Saravena. In addition, throughout the month [of January] there was an increase in harassment by persons identifying themselves as members of the National Liberation Army (ELN, by its Spanish acronym) guerrilla group and the dissidents [members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who did not accept the peace treaty], who pressured journalists to publish information such as pamphlets and threats. In the whole year, the dissidences were responsible for 30 attacks on the press in Arauca and five were at the hands of guerrilla members.

This increase adds to the trend of the last three years: in 2020, 13 cases were recorded in Arauca; in 2021, 24; and in 2022, 54. As a result of this violence, five reporters were forced to leave the state, making it the only region in the country that recorded cases of forced displacement of journalists in 2022.

2. Armed strike

During the armed strike decreed at the beginning of May by the criminal group Gulf Clan in six states, journalists from twelve news outlets were threatened and harassed. In Bajo Cauca, Antioquia, two community radio stations were forced to broadcast a pamphlet of the Gulf Clan and, due to the lack of security guarantees for the journalists of those media, the six community radio stations in the region decided to stop transmitting their signals until the armed strike ended. In Montería, Córdoba, the Gulf Clan threatened to set fire to a transmitter plant if it did not stop operating. It serves six radio stations in Córdoba, Sucre, Atlántico, Antioquia and Bolívar. The plant had to be shut down and the stations remained without signal for at least four days. This was in addition to the threat received by another journalist from Córdoba, who went out to do live coverage and, as a result, was followed by a man who intimidated him with a firearm. In Urabá, Antioquia, armed men fired into the air to force two journalists to stop recording.


Ilustración mujer periodista frente a computador, con libreta de notas y con micrófono

La existencia de violencia en línea contra mujeres periodistas en Colombia fue reconocida en una decisión judicial. (Ilustración: Rowena Neme / Cortesía FLIP)

3. A violent electoral period

Between January and July 2022, FLIP recorded 55 attacks on the press related to the coverage of the presidential and legislative elections. The most frequent aggression was stigmatization, with 19 cases. In addition, there were 11 obstructions to coverage, especially during election days and by public officials. In addition, the press was the victim of 12 threats and three harassments related to election coverage. The states where most of these aggressions occurred were Antioquia, Atlántico, Bogotá, Cauca, and Magdalena.

4. Stigmatization of the press as a growing and constant phenomenon

FLIP identified that public servants and officials used stigmatization as a way to delegitimize the work of media that stands in opposition to their interests and political stances, sometimes with the aim of gaining approval from their followers. During the electoral period, political candidates suggested that the press was lying, associated a sector of the media with extremist ideologies and imposed political charges that could incite violence against the media and journalists.

Of the 55 cases of stigmatization during 2022, 36 were carried out by public officials. In some instances, it amounted to patterns of harassment, as in the case of Medellín’s mayor's office, where Daniel Quintero Calle and his closest officials carried out a persistent attack against the newspaper El Colombiano. In addition, of the total number of stigmatizations, ten were carried out by congressmen. Among the repeat offenders were: María Fernanda Cabal, Piedad Córdoba and Roy Barreras.

5. Threats to journalists in the Darien

On Sept. 6, 2022, a Telemundo journalism team was victim of threats while covering the migration route in the Darien jungle. Illegal guides, also known as coyotes, threatened them and demanded that they leave the territory. They even told them that several journalists had already died there. When journalist Daniel Muñoz was in Capurganá, in the state of Chocó, three unknown men told him that he should leave immediately because his life was in danger. Days later, after leaving the area, Muñoz received a third threat by telephone. Three months later, the journalist said that he had not received timely attention in the activation of protection mechanisms for his case.

There were two other cases of death threats to the press by illegal groups in border areas between  the states of Chocó and La Guajira. In all three cases, there have been repeated threats, which happened after journalists published information on public order issues and the actions of illegal armed groups. In addition, in two cases, the perpetrators of the threats knew the residence and routines of the affected journalists, which speaks to a greater risk and a greater capacity to attack.

Montaje foto dos periodista uno con un micrófono y otro con una cámara colgada a su cuello

Rafael Moreno y Wilder Córdoba fueron los dos periodistas asesinados en Colombia en 2022 según registros de la FLIP. (Cortesía FLIP)

6. Murders of local journalists: Rafael Moreno and Wilder Córdoba

Journalist Rafael Emiro Moreno was murdered on the night of Oct. 16, 2022 in Montelíbano, state of Córdoba. Two men shot him while he was in a building he owned. Moreno was the director of the digital news outlet Voces de Córdoba and was widely recognized in the region for his work as a community and social leader. Moreno had been receiving threats since 2019 and had a security scheme from the National Protection Unit. To date, there has been no significant progress in the investigation of the crime.

Journalist Wilder Córdoba was murdered on the afternoon of Nov. 28 in La Unión, state of Nariño. He was the director of the community television channel Unión Televisión, where he had worked as a journalist for more than ten years. He was recognized for his journalistic exposés and his important work as a watchdog and a community leader. So far, no hypotheses of the investigation have been made known and no significant progress has been made.

7. Responsibility of the State in the case of Edison Molina

The Administrative Court of Antioquia declared that the State was responsible for the homicide case of journalist Edison Molina [which took place in 2013]. The court determined that the State had remained passive in the face of an at-risk situation having to do with threats the journalist had received and denounced.

The Court ordered a public ceremony be held in Puerto Berrío, Antioquia, in which the Police and the Prosecutor's Office must offer apologies for not having adequately protected Molina's life. Also, in the same municipality, a workshop, seminar or lecture on human rights must be held, with special emphasis on the promotion and respect for the right to freedom of expression, guarantees for the opposition and the defense of human rights.

8. A court decision acknowledged the existence of online violence against women journalists

The Administrative Court of Cundinamarca acknowledged that in Colombia there is a distinct pattern of violence in social media against women journalists. The Court established that the National Electoral Council and ethics committees may sanction parties, movements and political leaders for using or allowing this type of violence that affects citizen participation in public affairs. The case is currently in the hands of the Constitutional Court. During 2022, FLIP recorded 44 online aggressions against women journalists in different digital platforms, mainly in social media.

Periodista con audífonos frente a su consola de radio

En 2022 la FLIP interpuso una demanda de reparación por el asesinato del comunicador indígena Abelardo Liz ocurrido el 13 de agosto de 2020. (Foto original: Tejido de Comunicación ACIN / Montaje: Cortesía FLIP)

9. Lawsuit against the State for the murder of Indigenous communicator Abelardo Liz

In October 2022, FLIP filed a lawsuit for direct reparations against the Army and the Police for the murder of Indigenous journalist Abelardo Liz, which took place on Aug. 13, 2020. This legal action seeks recognition of the responsibility of the Colombian State in the death of the journalist, since FLIP, as representative of the victim's family, has managed to collect evidence and testimonies confirming that the Army shot Liz while he was covering clashes between security forces and the Nasa community in Corinto, state of Cauca.

10. Congressional action on press freedom

In 2022, Congress made progress in the defense of the right to access to information. After almost two years and under pressure from different sectors, then President Iván Duque signed the law that reestablished the terms in which institutions have to respond to petition rights, which during the pandemic had been extended. In addition, the Escazú Agreement was approved, which adds more guarantees for access to information on environmental issues. On the other hand, the process began for the creation of a special fund for the protection of the press in Colombia. This was in compliance with the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Jineth Bedoya v. Colombia.


(Banner illustration: Abriella Corker)