The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed grave concern over the disappearances of three journalists in northern Colombia and called on the authorities to use every means possible to find them.
Following the disappearance of Spanish journalist Salud Hernández-Mora, a long-time correspondent for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper and a columnist for the Bogotá daily El Tiempo, on Saturday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said today that two journalists from the right-leaning network RCN were also missing in the area.
Hernández-Mora was last seen on the outskirts of the town of El Tarra in Colombia’s volatile Norte de Santander department. Witnesses reportedly said that she had been arguing with an unidentified man before leaving on a motorcycle for an unknown destination.
“The disappearance of Ms. Hernández-Mora and reports indicating that she may have been kidnapped by leftist guerrillas are extremely worrying,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. “We urge Colombian authorities to do their utmost to find Hernández-Mora and the other missing journalists and, if they were indeed abducted, to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Hernández-Mora, who holds dual Spanish-Colombian citizenship, is known for her critical reporting on Colombia’s left-wing insurgent groups and was reportedly working on reports on human rights abuses and illegal drug trafficking in the Catatumbo region of northern Colombia at the time of her disappearance.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered security forces to give priority to locating the journalist. A joint task force made up of representatives of the police, the army and an anti-kidnapping unit has been activated to conduct a search operation for the journalist, Santos said via his Twitter account.
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo said yesterday that evidence suggested that Hernández-Mora may have been kidnapped by members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s second largest rebel insurgent group. The ELN has continued to kidnap people even though it recently agreed to begin peace talks with the Colombian government.
“Despite some improvements over recent years, Colombia remains a dangerous country for journalists to carry out their profession,” Ellis said. “Particularly in the rural areas, journalists covering sensitive topics are targeted with impunity by local criminals, leftist guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries, leading to widespread self-censorship. According to IPI’s research, in the last 10 years at least 22 journalists have lost their lives in Colombia in relation to their work.”
*This statement was updated on May 24, 2016 to note the reported disappearance of two additional journalists.