Bogotá, Colombia, December 19, 2017 – Colombian authorities should immediately suspend the mayor of a town in northern Colombia, and undertake a swift and credible investigation into reports that he threatened and shot at a local radio journalist, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Luis Carlos Ortiz told CPJ that Mayor Wilson González Reyes approached him in front of Ortiz’s home in Rionegro around 1 a.m. Sunday morning as the journalist was returning from a photo shoot. The journalist said González berated him for his critical news coverage, grabbed him by the neck, and later fired a shot at the journalist with a 9mm pistol.
“He said he was going to kill me,” Ortiz told CPJ recalling his encounter with González.
Ortiz said the mayor’s bullet barely missed him and that he reported the attack to police shortly after González drove off.
The journalist said he now fears for his life and is considering leaving Rionegro.
“It is unacceptable for a public official to interfere with a local journalist doing his job, much less openly threaten him with death,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney from New York City. “Wilson González Reyes should be immediately suspended as Rionegro mayor while authorities conduct a full investigation into his threats against Luis Carlos Ortiz.”
CPJ was unable to reach González or the police for comment. When CPJ called the town hall, the telephone was disconnected.
Ortiz, 27, works in Rionegro as a studio photographer and as host of a two-hour morning news program on “La Voz de la Inmaculada,” a community radio station operated by the local Catholic Church. He also writes for the Facebook page Ciudad Rionegro, which features local news and events. He told CPJ that he earlier this year posted stories, some original content and some from third parties, to the page about the poor condition of local roads, the town’s public swimming pool and an article about the mayor’s controversial decision to close a Rionegro senior citizens’ center.
Ortiz told CPJ that the Facebook posts angered González, and that on the night of the attack the mayor shouted: “I’m not afraid of what they say on social media.”
Ortiz and the mayor had previously had altercations. The journalist told CPJ that in 2015 González had punched with his fist both Ortiz and Ortiz’s mother after Ortiz had questioned the mayor about the González campaign offering free lunches in exchange for votes.
Sebastián Salamanca of the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) told CPJ that his organization has asked the Attorney General’s office to investigate the incident. Salamanca added that on Sunday FLIP solicited emergency protection for Ortiz from the government’s National Protection Unit, which had not responded to this request at the time of publication.