Colombian journalist murdered 15 days after reporting death threats to authorities
Luis Carlos Cervantes had been working as a journalist for Morena FM community radio station for five years. Until August 2013, he also worked as a correspondent for Teleantioquia News (Teleantioquia Noticias).
In 2012, Luis Carlos told FLIP about the different threats he had received since 2010. “The first threat occurred on 30 August 2010, at 6pm. It was a text message that said they were going to kill me. Then I got another threat in September, another in December, and then another one in March. In June of this year, someone under the alias of “Cocobraque” confessed that he was going to kill me.”
These threats persisted throughout 2012 and the start of 2013. From this point on, Cervantes’ journalistic work was decreased due to the difficulties faced by journalists reporting on the Bajo Cauca area. In an interview with FLIP near the end of 2013, Cervantes vowed that – following the explosion of a grenade, a few metres away from the radio station – he would start to air songs instead of news.
“In 2009, there were nine broadcasters, and now we’re the only ones. But now our programming doesn’t contain any news segments, we only air music and information about social services that the mayor’s office asks us to,” Cervantes said.
The public prosecutor did not adequately investigate the threats that Cervantes reported
FLIP has documented five formal complaints that Cervantes filed with the national prosecutor general. On 3 October 2013, Cervantes informed the authorities that the regional leader of the Urabeños [a criminal gang], Germer Andrés Rebolledo, who goes by the alias “El Escamoso,” was among those responsible for the threats against him. Police detained “El Escamoso” in September 2013; he attributed with the murder of journalist Luis Eduardo Gómez in 2011. Nevertheless, he was never called to the public prosecutor’s office for these matters.
In this context, it is unacceptable that the national prosecutor general stated – in a recent report – that they are only in charge of one investigation over threats against Cervantes (when in reality, there have been at least five complaints). It is also unacceptable that they say the last and only extent of their investigation was an interview with the victim.
FLIP has insisted, numerous times, that the public prosecutor play an active role in the CERREM – The Committee for the Evaluation of Risk and Recommended Measures – through which an update on the advance of investigations, or lack thereof, can be made public, and thus inform decisions regarding the protection of journalists.
Viewing the public prosecutor’s reports as incomplete, of the 338 investigations about threats that the prosecuting body has, 152 have been archived, 96 are in preliminary stages (Cervantes’ case being one of then), 4 are going through trial, and only one sentence has been issued.
FLIP would like to stress that the most effective mechanism to protect journalists is the investigation and sanction of those responsible for attacks against the press.
On 5 June 2014, CERREM examined Cervantes’ case and determined that he was at a “normal” risk level, considering there were no new incidents directly related to his profession as a journalist. On 24 July, the protective measures that Cervantes had relied on since 2012 were lifted.
Fifteen days before he was murdered, Cervantes warned the authorities that he had once again been threatened. According to what he told FLIP, a man under the alias of “Morroco” told him that he had two hours to leave Tarazá. FLIP reported this to the authorities, although it was not able to prove that these threats were related to his journalistic work.
Bajo Cauca: A silenced region
FLIP emphasizes once again that journalists are in danger in the Bajo Cauca region. It notes that the press has been silenced due to so many years of violence against it, and that those who are brave enough to report, do so without any guarantees, as FLIP has pointed out in its reports on the region.
Just this past Monday, 11 August, Leyfar Paul Bravo Hernández, a cameraman for Bajo Cauca Noticias, received a message with a death threat. He was told he had 24 hours to leave the municipality and if he didn’t do it, he would face the consequences.
With this in mind, it is necessary to demand that the public prosecutor open an exhaustive investigation and clarify whether the motives behind this crime are related to his journalistic activity.
Finally, FLIP laments and condemns the murder of Luis Carlos Cervantes, and sends a message of solidarity to his family and to the journalists of Antioquia and Bajo Cauca.