Thursday, August 28, 2014

Colombia: Paramilitaries threaten to kill freelance photographer in Colombia


Juan Pablo Gutiérrez, a freelance photographer and indigenous rights defender with dual French and Colombian nationality, has been the target of death threats for the past two weeks. Unable to return to his home in central Colombia, he is waiting for the authorities to respond to his request for protection.

“You have just a few hours of life left,” said the note signed by the paramilitary group Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) that Gutiérrez was handed on 14 August. The threat probably came from the same people who threatened him in September 2011 because of his reports designed to draw the public's attention to the Nukak, an indigenous group in Colombia's southeastern Amazonian region.

The Black Eagles are now accusing him of failing to comply with their earlier demands, above all that he should stop working with indigenous peoples and leave Colombia for good.

Gutiérrez works with the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) on documentation projects and photo campaigns about indigenous communities that are under threat. He also works with Amnesty International on photo campaigns in Colombia and France.

As a result of the threats he has been getting by phone and other means since 14 August, he has appealed to the National Protection Unit (UNP), a state body that is supposed to protect journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and others who are threatened in connection with their work.

“We urge the Colombian authorities, especially the National Protection Unit, to take the threats to Gutiérrez's life seriously and to quickly provide him with protection,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk.

Paramilitary groups continue to be the main source of danger to journalists and human rights defenders in Colombia. It is now clear that the government's attempt to demobilize the paramilitary groups was a failure and they still threaten journalists with grave reprisals.

The Black Eagles were behind major terror campaigns against the local press in 2006 and 2007. In 2011, they circulated a list of five journalists they said they would kill.

Colombia is ranked 126th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.