October 25, 2019

RSF concerned for journalists’ safety in Colombia’s Nariño department

Javier Córdoba Chaguendo- Source RCN Radio
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Colombian government to guarantee the safety of journalists and community media in the southwestern department of Nariño, where two community radio journalists have been murdered in the past five months, and calls on the departmental authorities to identify those responsible for these murders and bring them to justice.

The latest victim was Javier Córdoba Chaguendo, a radio show host who was gunned down inside the headquarters of radio Planeta Stereo in the Pacific coast town of Tumaco on the evening of 18 October by an unidentified individual who had pretended to be interested in buying advertising space. After shooting Córdoba, the gunman fled.

Córdoba hosted several programmes on Planeta Stereo, a local music radio station that he founded three years ago. A colleague told RSF that the station broadcasts mainly music programmes because “it is impossible to do news programmes in this region (...) due to the danger of being silenced.”

Córdoba’s murder was preceded by that José Libardo Montenegro, a radio show host with Samaniego Estéreo in Samaniego, a town in the interior of Nariño department, who was gunned down on 11 June.

The little airtime on their community radio stations that is set aside for actual news and information was used by both Córdoba and Libardo to interview local minorities such as the Awá indigenous community and farmers. In Nariño department, as in almost all of the Colombian Southwest, the civilian population is in the middle of the crossfire of armed groups, including the FARC dissident groups Oliver Sinisterra and Guerrillas Unidas del Pacífico, paramilitary groups such as Los Urabeños, Clan Úsuga and the Clan del Golfo and the Colombian Army which often fight for control of a share of the region and impose a reign of terror.

The local and national authorities must shed all possible light on these shocking execution-style murders and must identify those responsible as quickly as possible,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.

The risks for journalists in Nariño department are appalling. President Ivan Duque and his government have a duty to restore the rule of law there and to guarantee the safety of all news and information providers."

In September 2019, two pamphlets threatening 9 journalists were distributed in the area of Nariño, two intimidating videos were delivered to journalists Miguel Rojas and Rubén Darío Rojas of Ipiales to coerced them about covering the elections, journalist Natalia Cabrera was forced to flee the region because of threats. Also, on the border of this region, three Ecuadorian journalists of the newspaper El Comercio were murdered in 2018. 

Overwhelmed by the fighting among armed groups in many parts of Colombia, the government is struggling to reestablish its authority. The resulting level of violence creates news and information black holes where journalists are constantly threatened and attacked whenever they try to cover sensitive subjects.

The recent victims in other parts of Colombia include Mauricio Lezama, a documentary filmmaker who was gunned down in the eastern department of Arauca on 9 May while filming interviews for a documentary about the victims of the armed conflict.

Colombia is ranked 129th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index..