Days after gasoline attack, TV station owner told to leave town under pain of death

Published on Friday 10 June 2011.
Mario Estebán López, the owner and director of regional TV station Canal 22 RAV Televisión, could be executed if he does not leave the city of Ipiales, in the southwestern department of Nariño, by tomorrow, according to a warning he received on the night of 8 June, nine days after he was nearly killed by three unidentified attackers armed with gasoline.
In the attack with gasoline, which took place on 31 May, he was ambushed in his car near his home and came close to being strangled and burned alive.
“I thought they were kidnapping me,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “I smelled gasoline, I felt the pressure of the flex around neck (...) Then a man in car approached and told [his accomplices] that there were police nearby. I was left in the middle of the road soaked in gasoline. All this lasted an hour and a half.”
López, 28, has been under permanent threat even since he started covering sensitive local stories. He was given his first warning after a report after actions by a neighbourhood’s residents against drug dealers without any reaction from the local authorities.
He received another threat, this time from the municipal authorities, after a report that reflected badly on both the municipal government and the local police. Nariño is known for its law and order problems.
The mayor of Ipiales brought a defamation suit against him on 5 June, alleging that López had accused him of instigating the 31 May attack with gasoline. López has denied blaming the attack on the mayor.
“I feel persecuted,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “I have had to postpone my wedding. Certain colleagues, journalists who support the municipal government, are against me and say I am hurting the city’s image. I want to put pressure on the government to provide me with protection so that I can continue working.”
“The Ipiales police should provide López with protection without awaiting the results of the investigation into the threats against him,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Instead of suing him, why didn’t the municipal government come to his help immediately after the 31 May attack? And why didn’t the mayor accept López’s offer to come and defend himself on López’s TV station?”
Colombia is a dangerous country for journalists and continues to endure a civil war in which justice has never been rendered for its crimes. Reporters Without Borders points out that Impunity, a major documentary on Colombia’s paramilitaries by the filmmaker Juan Lozano and the journalist Hollman Morris, is to be screened at 5 p.m. on 20 June at Bogotá’s Teatro México.