The attack took place after Cristian Herrera, a crime reporter for the daily Q'Hubo, received a tip-off from one of his sources that a murder had just taken place in a dangerous part of the city frequented by criminal gangs, smugglers and traffickers.
Herrera, who has two bodyguards assigned by the National Protection Unit (UNP), set off at once with his bodyguards and one of his colleagues, Andrés González, in a UNP pickup.
On arriving at the scene, the pickup was surrounded by gunmen on motorcycles who insulted the reporters, used force in an attempt to open its doors and then opened fire. The pickup took off at great speed and fortunately none of its four occupants sustained any injury.
Herrera began getting state protection in October 2014, after receiving many death threats and warnings to stop covering crime. He reported getting more threats in November.
“We condemn what was both an act of extreme cowardliness and a grave violation of the freedom to report the news,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.
“This murder attempt against a working journalist guarded by the National Protection Unit is indicative of the ineffectiveness of the protective mechanisms in place in a country that is still badly affected by the violence of criminal groups, a country where investigative reporting continues to be very dangerous.”
Herrera told RSF he has been getting threats in connection with his work since 2004, when he began covering crime in Cúcuta. He had an earlier spell under UNP protection at the time and even fled to Chile for a year as a safety measure.
The threats resumed in 2014, when he received leaflets signed by Los Rastrojos, an armed paramilitary group, naming him as a “military target” and giving him 24 hours to leave the city.
The UNP told RSF that measures have now been taken to step up protection for Herrera, including assigning him an armour-plated car for work use.
The UNP – the subject of a joint report by RSF, FECOLPER and FLIP last year on the 15th anniversary of its creation – needs an urgent overhaul in order to be able to provide more effective protection for Colombia’s journalists, especially crime reporters, who are exposed to the threat of extreme violence by organized crime in many parts of the country including Cúcuta.
In the peace process that has been under way with the FARC guerrillas for several years, the Colombian government must not turn a blind eye to the presence of other armed groups such as the ELN and the various paramilitary groups that often target journalists and continue to sow terror.
Colombia is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.