A threat to one journalist is a threat to all journalists: Alfredo Molano’s case
/ Tuesday 12 August 2008
On February 24, 2007 well-known Colombian sociologist and journalist Alfredo Molano-Bravo wrote in his weekly column in the newspaper El Espectador an article entitled “Araujos et al”. In it he drew upon his personal experiences in Cesar Department and its capital city, Valledupar, where he had worked in INCORA, the Colombian government ‘s land reform agency, and later visited collecting oral testimony of regional history. After referring to the Araujo families of Valledupar and Cartagena as operators of haciendas and commercial businesses and as occupants of public offices, Molano described a series of unlawful, immoral actions which he ascribed to the “Notables” of Valledupar, including contraband in coffee, cattle and marihuana; using notary services by relatives to obtain lands in their names; stealing land from the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada region; and procuring votes in their favor by transporting indigenous peoples to the polls, giving them liquor and then abandoning them after receiving their votes. Molano did not identify the “Notables” as members of the Araujo family and made no charge against any member of the Araujo family for the activities of the “Notables”. It should be observed, however, that former Senator and Minister of Agriculture Alfredo Araujo Noguera, accused of kidnapping one candidate to favor the election of his son, Alvaro Araujo-Castro, is a fugitive from justice, while his son Alvaro is in prison accused of using illegal paramilitaries to pressure people to vote for him.
When members of the Araujo family complained to the Attorney General’s office that Molano had accused them of committing crimes, a staff attorney of the office, Maria Cecilia Cadena-Lleras, met with the Araujos and Molano. She interpreted the description of misdeeds by the “Notables” to refer directly to the Araujo family of Valledupar, though nowhere do the words of Molano make that connection. When Molano refused a proposal by the Araujos that he show them a response for their appoval before publication —essentially prior censorship— he refused. He asked for three months to respond to the charges and substantiate his position. However, Ms. Cadena instead formulated criminal charges against him for falsely imputing dishonorable conduct to the Araujo family, violating their right to a good name and privacy, and libeling them, causing intangible harm to the good name, honor and dignity of each of the members of the Araujo family of Valledupar —none of whom he specifically named in his article.
Now Alfredo Molano faces a possible criminal prosecution for his article. Under the Colombian Constitution and laws, there are protections for the type of speech represented by Molano’s article. These charges against Alfredo Molano come in the context of the fact that he was forced to leave Colombia for a time a few years ago because of threats on his life, during which time he was associated with Stanford University.
Today, August 12, 2008 Alfredo Molano has been ordered to appear before a judge to reply, in a preparatory hearing, to the charges of libel presented against him. The Colombian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to express one’s thoughts and opinions. This attempt to punish journalist and writer Alfredo Molano for a constitutionally-protected expression of opinion, designed to describe the social and political climate in which the Araujo’s and others carried out their activities, represents an attempt to impose censorship which is totally at odds with freedom of expression. As the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has recognized : “Freedom of Expression is a cornerstone of the very existence of a democratic society. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion.”. This attempt to restrict expression of opinion not only interferes with the right to express opinions and ideas but also the right of the community in general to receive a wide range of information and opinions. It undermines democracy.
Sign the enclosed letter to President Uribe. Send an email to us: firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and city. Please circulate this to as many journalists as possible. Many thanks CSN.
August 12, 2008
ALVARO URIBE VELEZ
President of the Republic of Colombia
Palacio de Narino
We the Colombia Support Network have long admired the courageous writing of sociologist and journalist Alfredo Molano. His popular column in El Espectador has focused attention on current affairs in a dedicated attempt to bring honor and justice to Colombian society. His column in the February 24, 2007 El Espectador was written in this vein. It cast light upon activities of political and social leaders in two Colombian cities, Valledupar and Cartagena. Alfredo Molano spoke from extensive experience in Valledupar and its surrounded area. He mado no specific allegations against any member of the Araujo family, yet when members of that family complained, the Colombian Attorney General’s office brought criminal charges against him for libel. Attached to this note is a summary of what has followed upon publication of the February 24, 2007 column, which comes in the context of a spreading scandal of paramilitary influence in the Colombian Congress and with persons very close to the Uribe government, including the President’s cousin, Senator Mario Uribe.
We believe the effort to prosecute Alfredo Molano for his writing is part of a plan to muzzle the Colombian press at a time when investigations of ties of many Colombian politicians, including members of the Araujo family, with ilegal paramilitaries are leading to convictions.
We particularly applaud Alfredo Molano’s courage in returning to his homeland and focusing public attention on corruption there, an invaluable contribution to the effort to rid his country of lawlessness and crime. We express our support for his principled use of the right to free expression of critical thinking, which is a fundamental support for democracy itself. The charges against Alfredo Molano will, if mantained, chill critical discourse in Colombia at a time when it is especially needed there. And his prosecution will do a grave injustice to a man who has spoken his conscience and displayed tremendous courage in a time of danger and conflict in his country. We call upon the Colombian government to dismiss the charges against Alfredo Molano and to protect his right to criticize the “Notables” who engage in rapacious, immoral and ilegal actions which have greatly harmed Colombian society.
cc Fiscal General Mario Iguaran- Arana
Fidel Cano, Director of El Espectador
Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State
Senator Christopher Dodd, Chairman Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, Foreign Relations Committee