Murders of two journalists in northern Colombia must be properly investigated, says RSF
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Colombian authorities to shed all possible light on the murders of journalists Leiner Montero and Dilia Contreras in the northern department of Magdalena last weekend, shortly after they were reportedly threatened by a local paramilitary chief’s brother. The authorities must also step up protection for media personnel throughout the country, RSF says.
“Magdalena department has become a lawless region where journalists are systematically targeted,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the director of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “The local and federal authorities must identify the perpetrators and instigators of this cowardly execution-style killing as soon as possible. The safety of journalists in all parts of the country needs to be a priority for the government led by the new president, Gustavo Petro.”
After covering a popular and religious festival in the village of Santa Rosa de Lima, Leiner Montero and Dilia Contreras had just begun their 16-kilometer return trip to the town of Fundación on 28 August when two helmeted individuals on a motorcycle drew alongside their car, opened fire and drove off. Montero and Contreras died within minutes while a third journalist who was with them, Joaquín Gutiérrez, was rushed to hospital with a gunshot injury.
Montero was the director and presenter of the local radio station Sol Digital and edited a Facebook page called Leiner Montero - Historias in which he covered local news and posted complaints from members of the public. Contreras, who was assisting Montero with his Facebook page reporting that day, was an experienced freelancer who worked as a presenter for RCN Radio, a national radio station, and reported for various local media including the newspapers El Informador and Hoy Diario. She also covered legal and community stories for Voces 89.4 FM, a local radio station.
A source told RSF that, on arriving in Santa Rosa de Lima, Montero and Contreras had a discussion with a local paramilitary leader’s brother who then threatened them. This was also reported by several local media outlets.
The Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), RSF’s partner organisation in Colombia, meanwhile reported that Montero had received threats during the past two years, and especially in the last six months, and that these threats “had led him to remove the transmitters for his radio station that he had installed [in Santa Rosa de Lima].”
Magdalena and its capital, Santa Marta, have a strong organised crime presence and have seen a recent surge in violence. Several armed groups, such as the Clan del Golfo, Colombia’s most active paramilitary group, and the Avendaño clan, an offshoot of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, have imposed a reign of terror there. As a result, the environment is dangerous and uncertain for journalists, who are often threatened.
“It’s hell in Santa Marta and Magdalena,” a colleague of Montero and Contreras told RSF. “The authorities have failed to deal with the problem and, as a result, the criminals now have carte blanche to assault and murder in broad daylight. We had never experienced that here in the past.”
President Petro quickly tweeted his condemnation of the murders of Montero and Contreras, calling for “an urgent investigation” by the prosecutor’s office. He also said that “the media must have the necessary safeguards to do their job.” RSF welcomes the new president’s reaction.
Montero and Contreras are the first journalists to be murdered in Colombia in 2022. At least one journalist – Marcos Efraín Montalvo Escobar in Valle del Cauca department – was killed in connection with their work last year. His murder is still unpunished.