Colombia: kidnapped journalist and author released by guerrilla

31 May 2016

PEN International is delighted to report that the veteran Spanish-Colombian journalist and author Salud Hernández-Mora was released by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group on the afternoon of 27 May, six days after her capture in the lawless Catatumbo region of northern Colombia. Two journalists for RCN TV who went missing while investigating her disappearance, reporter Diego D’Pablos and cameraman Carlos Melo, were released a few hours later.

We are thankful for these journalists’ safe return,’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International. ‘We ask the Colombian government to ensure that they receive immediate protection to guarantee their safety.’

Hernández-Mora, who writes for El Tiempo and El Mundo, was reportedly handed over to the parish priest of San Calixto en Ocaña, Norte de Santander department and officials from the ombudsmen’s office by individuals who identified themselves as members of the ELN. The rebel group had previously refused to confirm that it was holding the journalist. D’Pablos and Melo were also released to a delegation led by Catholic priests.

In an interview with El Tiempo on 29 May, the journalist confirmed that she was kidnapped after being approached and agreeing to meet ELN commanders for what she thought would be an interview. She said that although she had been frequently moved around to avoid detection she had been well treated.

I told the guerrilla that if they start doing this kind of thing, we won’t be able to report any more, we won’t be able to cover what’s going on in this forgotten part of Colombia which the national media hardly ever goes to,’ said Hernández-Mora. In the same interview, she described the idea of peace with the ELN as ‘almost impossible’.

The ELN, which reportedly has around 1,200 fighters, had been due to commence negotiations with the Colombian government as part of a wider ongoing peace process to end the country’s decades-long conflict. However, shortly before the kidnappings, the group’s leader rejected President Juan Manuel Santos’ demands that it release all its hostages as a pre-condition to the talks.

Colombia has a long history of impunity for violence against journalists. According to the Bogotá-based Foundation of the Freedom of the Press (FLIP), 2015 saw 147 attacks on 232 journalists in the country – including the murder of two broadcasters – a 39 per cent increase on the previous year. Colombia’s state-run journalist protection programme, set up in 2000 and often cited as a model for such schemes in the region, is increasingly coming under criticism for overspending and failing to protect journalists effectively and equally, among others.

A total of 115 journalists have been killed in Colombia since 1977, reports FLIP; in only four of these cases have the individuals who ordered the deaths been convicted.

See PEN International’s previous statement on Salud Hernández-Mora here.

For further information, please contact Tamsin Mitchell, Americas Programme Coordinator

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