Police violence against Colombian reporter requires investigation, reparation

The Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), International Press Association of Colombia (APIC) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterate their alert about the Colombian state’s failure to protect reporters covering the current wave of protests in Colombia. Attacks threatening the health and lives of reporters, and impunity for those attacks, have a chilling effect on the freedom to inform.

Andrés Cardona, a reporter and photographer for international media outlets, is the latest serious victim. He was badly injured when ESMAD riot police fired a teargas canister at him as he was covering a protest in Usme, a district of the capital, Bogotá, on 28 July. More than 80 journalists have been the victims of attacks in the course of protests in Bogotá, although talks have been initiated with the city hall and members of the police with the aim of de-escalating the violence against them.

This is not the first time that Cardona, whose injuries have impacted his ability to work, has been attacked by police while covering protests. The FLIP and RSF have documented two previous cases of physical violence against him, including one in which he had to seek medical attention after a uniformed policeman hit him over the head with his gun. In every case, Cardona had a press card, vest and helmet identifying him as a journalist.

These attacks have compounded the security problems that Cardona has suffered for years. He has received threats, has been illegally profiled, and has had to change his place of residence because his life was in danger. Until now, there has been no effective, appropriate response from the state in terms of guaranteeing his safety and ability to continue working as a journalist.

The FLIP, APIC y RSF categorically reject the continuing police violence against the media in contravention of the obligation to guarantee security conditions for their reporting and thereby guarantee press freedom in Colombia. 

We demand that the Colombian authorities comply with their international human rights obligations, and that the prosecutor’s office and the police carry out a prompt and impartial investigation into the violence against Andrés Cardona that conforms to minimum standards of investigation into crimes of violence against the media. Those responsible must be punished and the authorities must ensure that the photographer receives reparation.

We also reiterate our alarm about the Colombian state’s scant protection for reporters covering protests. It is inexplicable that, given the excessive and unprecedented levels of violence, the authorities do not take action to rein in the police abuses against journalists during protests. With support from RSF, the FLIP has documented 314 attacks – 62.5% blamed on the police – with a total of 388 victims.

Cardona’s case is one of a total of 114 cases in which journalists have been physically attacked by police while reporting in the past three months. The media have been one of the leading victims of the use of excessive force by the police during demonstrations – a problem ignored by the authorities, whose silence and inaction render them complicit.

As long as this grave situation continues throughout the country, as long as the authorities that are supposed to guarantee the conditions for press freedom keep on deviating from their role and keep on acting as the main aggressor against the press, and as long as they continue to fail to adopt the structural measures needed to end this violence for good, international organisations must continue to speak out and must continue to demand that the Colombian state complies with its human rights obligations.

In particular, we urge the international community to respond to the message that the FLIP and RSF addressed to the United Nations and Organisation of American States in May drawing attention to this situation. 

The message was sent to the UN secretary-general, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNESCO and the special rapporteur on freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Publié le 10.08.2021
Mise à jour le 11.08.2021