Freedom of Expression

Press release R199/22

Colombian state must investigate murder of journalists Leiner Enrique Montero and Dilia Contreras and punish those responsible

September 7, 2022

Washington, D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of journalists Leiner Enrique Montero Orga and Dilia Contreras Cantillo in a village of Fundación, Magdalena department, and urges the State to investigate the facts fully, effectively and impartially, taking into consideration the journalistic work as a possible motive for the crime, and to punish those responsible.

According to available information, last August 28, two unknown individuals intercepted and shot journalists Leiner Enrique Montero Orga and Dilia Contreras Cantillo, who were returning from a journalistic coverage in the village of Santa Rosa de Lima. As this Office learned, cameraman Joaquín Alberto Gutiérrez, who accompanied Montero and Contreras in the back of the vehicle, was shot twice in the arm and is currently hospitalized in Fundación hospital.

Leiner Enrique Montero was the director of the radio station Sol Digital Stereo in the municipality of Fundación and wrote on social networks through his page Leiner Montero historias, on various topics of general and local interest. Dilia Contreras had worked as a reporter and broadcaster in several media in the cities of Bogotá and Santa Marta and was currently working with Montero in his informative page in social networks. According to the information reported, hours before the murder, Montero had been involved in a discussion in which he had received a threat from a person who was in the place where the journalists were working. SRFOE learned that Montero had been the target of several threats in recent years, and that for that reason a few months ago he had uninstalled the transmitters of the radio station he had in the municipality of Fundación.

The Rapporteur’s Office reiterates that the murder of journalists and communicators for reasons that could be related to their journalistic work constitutes the most serious violation of the right to freedom of expression. Lethal violence against the press not only directly violates the right to life, but also aims to suppress the right of journalists to express themselves and inform and generates a notable effect of self-censorship. Likewise, this Office has pointed out on previous occasions that violence against journalists also seriously affects the social and collective dimension of the right to freedom of expression, insofar as it violates the right of societies to receive information and ideas of all kinds.

The authorities have indicated that they are working to clarify the facts and identify the perpetrators. The mayor of Fundación, Carlos Sierra, announced the holding of an Extraordinary Security Council together with the Magdalena Police and the Prosecutor's Office, on August 29. In addition, the colonel of the Magdalena Police referred that one of the main hypotheses of the crime would be related to "an act of intolerance".  This Office urges the State to continue with the investigations in a timely and complete manner and recalls that the lack of punishment for crimes against the press encourages the repetition of violence and silencing.

The Rapporteur’s Office appreciates that the highest authorities have publicly and timely condemned the facts, requesting "an urgent investigation to find those responsible for this crime because, in Colombia, the press must have the guarantees to do its work", and instructing the Ministry of Defense to take action to "guarantee the protection of the life and safety of citizens throughout the territory". For the Office of the Special Rapporteur, messages of this type rejecting violence and supporting the work of journalists -especially when they come from the highest levels of government- constitute an important preventive and protective measure for the press, and a gesture that reinforces its value and legitimacy in democratic societies and strengthens freedom of expression. The Special Rapporteur’s Office encourages that these practices be replicated in all public bodies and levels of government.

Finally, this Office calls on the Colombian State to increase its efforts to prevent violence against journalists and impunity for these crimes and recalls that this obligation is accentuated in situations or areas in which there is or has been detected a special risk for journalists working in the media. As the IACHR and its Special Rapporteur Office have previously pointed out, compliance with the obligation of prevention by the State is of vital importance in those countries where there are areas in which journalists have opted for self-censorship, to prevent the phenomenon from continuing to replicate itself.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.