Freedom of Expression

Press Release 15/99


Santiago A. Canton, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the OAS, has stated his profound concern over the kidnapping of Henry Romero, the Columbian photojournalist, by an armed dissident group known as the Army of National Liberation (ELN). The Reuters photographer was captured on Tuesday afternoon in the surrounding area of Cali, allegedly to explain why he published photographs showing the faces of various ELN members.

The press freedom situation in Columbia is a serious source of concern for the Special Rapporteur since it is notorious in this hemisphere for having the highest number of its journalists killed in recent years. In fewer than three months, as many journalists have been murdered. Jaime Garzón, of Radionet and Caracol Televisión, and Guzmán Quintero Torres, of the daily newspaper El Pilón, were killed in August. Rodolfo Luis Torres, of Radio Fuentes, came to the same end the 21st of October. Dr. Canton has reiterated his concern for the safety of its journalists to the Columbian authorities. In addition to the grave acts mentioned above, it must be noted that Columbian journalists endure constant threats and intimidation, for the sole reason that they are carrying out their professional responsibility to inform the public. At the same time, as has been expressed on countless occasions by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, these threats, intimidations and murders constitute a clear violation of international and humanitarian law.

The Office of the Rapporteur demands the immediate and unconditional release of the photojournalist, Henry Romero, and exhorts the Columbian authorities to use all means necessary to free him and to sanction those responsible for his kidnapping. Finally, the Rapporteur maintains that freedom of expression is the cornerstone of the democratic system; that only through the free debate of ideas and opinions can the peace sought by the Columbian people be achieved.

Santiago A. Canton
Special Rapporteur for Freedom
of Expression
Washington, D.C.
October 27, 1999