Freedom of Expression

Press Release R106/17

Office of The Special Rapporteur expresses concern over stigmatization and violence against journalists in Colombia


July 26, 2017


Washington, D.C. – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the recent episodes of stigmatization and violence against journalists in Colombia, and urges the State to strengthen the comprehensive measures for the prevention, protection, and prosecution in these cases.


According to available information, on June 5, 2017, Senate undersecretary Saul Cruz reported before the Congress plenary that he had been the victim of an assault by the team of reporters of Noticias Uno. The team was covering the elections of the judges for the Constitutional Court of that country. Several senators found the complaint to be true and raised the need to investigate the facts and establish criminal sanctions against these reporters. Senator Rosemary Martinez of the Cambio Radical party would have ordered "that an investigation be conducted" "if not the ELN will come disguised as a doctor and will massacre us here in Congress." Subsequently, videos and testimonies revealed that the undersecretary reportedly faked the physical aggression. The Attorney General's Office reportedly initiated a disciplinary investigation and ordered the suspension of Saul Cruz for three months from his position.


Later, on June 19, Dutch journalists Derk Johannes Bolt and Eugenio Ernest Marie were kidnapped in the north of the Department of Santander by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla. The journalists were released on June 24 and handed over to a commission of the Colombian Ombudsman's Office.


According to the information received, on July 14, former president and now Senator Álvaro Uribe, through his Twitter account, accused journalist Daniel Samper Ospina of Revista Semana of being a "child rapist." In a later opinion column, the Colombian senator ratified his previous statement and explained that "the journalist mistreated a girl of three months of age, made a public association of his name with illicit drugs, and attacked the honor of his mother and his family". The accusations against Samper were rejected through several press releases by the Federation of Journalists of Colombia (FECOLPER), the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), and a public letter signed by renowned personalities, lawyers, and journalists in the country. The different statements warned about the lack of foundation of the accusations, and also noticed the risk that they could entail for the communicator.


A few days before, journalist Claudia Gurisatti, director of Noticias RCN and NTN24, reported having been targeted by a social media harassment campaign that could place her personal integrity at risk.


The situation of freedom of expression and the exercise of journalism in Colombia was the subject of a public hearing at the 163 Period of Session of the IACHR in Lima, Peru. At this hearing, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression received information provided by civil society organizations and the Colombia State. Particularly, civil society representatives asserted that, even though during 2016 there were no murders of journalists in the country, other forms of attacks continue, including kidnappings, undue pressure, harassment and stigmatization. The State of Colombia reaffirmed its commitment with freedom of expression and journalism in Colombia and provided information regarding the measures adopted to strengthen the available mechanisms for the protection of journalists and the prosecution of those responsible for crimes against them.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur reminds the Colombian State that it has an obligation to prevent, protect, investigate, and punish violence against journalists, particularly those who have been subjected to harassment and threats or other acts of violence. The obligation to prevent entails among other things, the duty to adopt a public discourse that contributes to preventing violence against journalists, which "requires that public officials refrain from making statements that expose journalists and media workers to a greater risk of acts of violence." In this regard, public officials must actively promote the pluralism and tolerance that are inherent to a democratic society.


Through Resolution AG/RES. 2908 (XLVII-O/17), adopted by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States at its forty-seventh regular period of session, the member states reaffirmed that "journalistic activity must be free from threats, physical or psychological attacks, or other acts of harassment," and urged the implementation of comprehensive measures for the prevention, protection, and procurement of justice in this area.


Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, adopted in 2000, states that "[t]he murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to stimulate a hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.