June 16, 2021

Colombia defends press freedom amid espionage scandal

Journalists and international organizations closed ranks this Sunday in defense of press freedom in Colombia, whose world day coincided with the Army’s espionage scandal against at least 130 people, including national and foreign correspondents.

The scandal caused, for the second day, the rejection of human rights organizations and the media due to the “profiles” of Army intelligence units, which include graphics on the contacts of those affected, their families, movements and journalistic work.

The Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out that the activity of the intelligence services “must correspond to the guarantee of protection of human rights, not violate them.”

On World Press Freedom Day, the international organization praised the work of journalists, “since their work to seek and disseminate truthful information and to open spaces for participation for a diversity of voices in society is one of the pillars of democracies. ”


The UN Office also confirmed “its support and solidarity with the legitimate work of human rights defenders, journalists, members of political parties, judges and others, in Colombia.”

He also reminded the Colombian State of the recommendation of the High Commissioner “to take specific measures so that the intelligence systems respect human rights and are subject to strict civil and judicial controls.”

According to an investigation published by Semana magazine, members of the Army spied on journalists until a few months ago, including US media correspondents, such as The New York Times’ Nick Casey; and Juan Forero, from the Wall Street Journal.

The documents also include John Otis, Latin American correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) and investigator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), photojournalist Lynsey Addario and photographer Stephen Ferry.

According to the magazine, there are also references in the military folders for Colombian journalists and alternative media in the country that cover the armed conflict and victim processes.


Meanwhile, journalists and press organizations asked Colombian President Iván Duque to explain why the Army is spying on them, and in turn rejected the “illegal” activities of military intelligence against him.

“Today, May 3, World Press Freedom Day, we demand a statement from the Government of President Iván Duque and we remind him of the obligations of the Colombian State to guarantee the free exercise of journalism,” they said.

In a letter signed by about 200 journalists and organizations, including some of those who were spied on, they raise issues that go beyond rejection to Duque.

The signatories asked the Government to explain who gave the order to prepare the profiles and surveillance, to clarify whether the journalists are a threat to military security and to publish who the addressees were or who had access to the folders with information about the spies. .


The president described this Sunday as “inadmissible” the Army’s pursuits of journalists and promised punishment for those responsible.

“This type of conduct against members of the press, against human rights defenders, but also against public officials and the Casa de Nariño, is inadmissible. And I have asked them (the military command) that we have to go as far as the fund, with exemplary sanctions, “Duque said in a message on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

The head of state also reiterated that his government has “zero tolerance” with any action by members of the security forces that deviates from its constitutional mission.

“That is why we also transmit very clearly that intelligence functions have to be carried out with total excellence and with strict adherence to the law and, above all, to protect citizens. And that implies that this capacity must be used to face criminality” he stated.


The request to the national government today is general: to offer security guarantees to journalists, especially during the coronavirus pandemic that economically limits the media and restricts the mobility of those who report, mainly in the most remote regions.

“To those who have not understood that to violate a journalist is to violate the entire society, (I make) a call for them to correct, to investigate and end this impunity,” journalist Jineth Bedoya said today during a webinar of the Bogota Book Fair.

In the panel on indispensable journalism, Bedoya, awarded this week with the Unesco-Guillermo Cano 2020 World Press Freedom Prize, highlighted the work of those who report in the midst of adversity, “at the cost of her own life”, but questioned the State for not “stopping the impunity that has been in the country for many decades.”

“This May 3 does not catch Colombia with decent credentials, quite the contrary, it seems that with the revelations of the last days we felt less guarantees than we had before,” said the director of the Foundation for Freedom in the same space. Press Office (FLIP), Pedro Vaca.

For her part, the European Union ambassador to Colombia, Patricia Llombart, expressed concern about restrictions on freedom of expression, not only in the country, but throughout the world.


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