democraciaAbierta

Does the Colombian government violate press freedom?

International Women’s Media Foundation denounces that one of its fellows was denied entry into Colombia to report. Migration authorities deny the accusations of deportation. Español Português

DemocraciaAbierta
3 October 2019
The Divina Providencia Community Center, in Cúcuta, Colombia, on 11 February 2019, serves 6,000 meals a day for free, feeding thousands of Venezuelans and Venezuelans arriving in Colombia.. PA IMAGES: © Elyxandro Cegarra

Seeking the truth is not always welcome by governments that have something to hide. This appears to be the case of the Colombian government who recently denied the entry to Alejandra Rajal, a Mexican journalist.

The IWMF issued the following statement, which we reproduce here in its entirety:

“On October 1, 2019, Mexican journalist Alejandra Rajal was denied entry to Colombia in advance of a reporting trip for the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)’s Adelante program. The IWMF is deeply disturbed by this violation of press freedom and urges the Colombian government to allow journalists to complete their work without interference.

Upon arrival to Colombia, Rajal was removed from immigration proceedings to be questioned. Authorities detained Rajal for roughly 11 hours, during which time her cell phone – containing information about her reporting projects – was taken and searched without her permission. Colombian authorities then delivered unfounded claims against Rajal, accusing her of entering the country with a lack of resources and of lying about her reasons for entering the country.

In addition to these intimidation tactics, the officials searched her belongings, displayed threatening videos, limited her communications and did not provide access to food. During this time, the IWMF was in direct communications with representatives from Migración Colombia, provided documentation corroborating Rajal’s statements to relevant authorities.

Ultimately, Rajal was denied entry to Colombia and sent back to Mexico.

Rajal was chosen as one of 12 outstanding women journalists in a highly selective application process for this fully funded reporting trip to Colombia. Currently in its fifth year, the IWMF’s Adelante fellowship program is a well-established initiative in Latin America funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. To-date, Adelante has conducted five reporting trips to Colombia and 23 throughout Latin America; yet, this is the first and only time a fellow has faced these consequences.

To intimidate and deny entry to a working journalist is to instill trauma, inhibit vital reporting and prevent future career opportunities. The IWMF’s 30-year history has included trips for journalists to some of the most dangerous and challenging places in the world, yet Rajal’s experience is unique. This clear violation of press freedom is deeply concerning, and a somber reminder of the continued challenges women journalists face simply for seeking the truth.”

To intimidate and deny entry to a working journalist is to instill trauma, inhibit vital reporting and prevent future career opportunities.

Yet, according to the Migration authorities, talking to the Spanish news agency EFE, Rajal lied during the migration interview declaring she was coming to the country for tourism and not for work, as she clarified later. Allegedly, she later delcared she was on her way to Medellin, where the Gabo Festival is taking place, but in reality she was also planning to go to Cucuta., something that Rajal strongly denies. "It is not that it seems suspicious to us to enter the country for tourism reasons. However, there are established rules for those who enter the national territory", Migration said.

Asked about Rajal's detention, Migration told EFE that "she was not held in detention" but kept in a "transitory room" while waiting for a flight back to Mexico, strictly following was it is established by the protocols.

"It is not true that the journalist was incommunicado, proof of this is that she called the coordinator or the production manager and told her what was happening," Migration concluded.

All in all,this are clearly very weak excuses for an intimidating and abusive attitude from the Migration authorities that is intolerable. It is very unfortunate that Migration overreacted to Rajal’s alleged contradictions at the border’s interview, and as a consequence her right to do her job as a journalist was violated.

Colombia is hosting this week the Gabo Festival, one of the most prestigious Latin American fora for journalism and freedom of expression, and incidents like this one speak volumes of the country's internal contradictions, with a Government that does not seem to beleive in such freedom.

There is much happening in Colombia that needs to be reported and it is not by sending back journalist fellows from IWMF and violating their rights that the urgent job will be done.

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