Political persecution? New York Times journalist escaped Colombia after accusations

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After accusations made in social networks by right-wing politicians, the journalist Nick Casey decided to leave the country for feeling threatened

Political persecution? New York Times journalist escaped Colombia after accusations

In the midst of the mediatic uproar caused by the release and subsequent capture of ex-commander of the FARC, Jesus Santrich, another news that did not praise the Colombian government for its action went on the air. This was the case of the article Colombia Army's New Kill Orders Send Chills Down Ranks, that journalist Nicholas Casey, published in The New York Times on Saturday, May 18.

Leer en español: ¿Persecución política? Periodista del New York Times escapó de Colombia tras acusaciones

After its publication, the article has been subject to criticism, mainly by right-wing politicians, who accuse him of transmitting false news. Because of this political pressure, Casey decided to leave the country, as he fears for his safety.

What did the article say?

"The head of Colombia’s army, frustrated by the nation’s faltering efforts to secure peace, has ordered his troops to double the number of criminals and militants they kill, capture or force to surrender in battle — and possibly accept higher civilian casualties in the process, according to written orders and interviews with senior officers", the article begins.

The development of the article reveals that, since a meeting of the "fifty principal generals and colonels of the country" in January of this year, it was established that army casualties should increase in the fight against guerrillas and paramilitary groups. In the place, those present were forced to sign an oath in which they committed themselves to "double the results". All this was revealed by statements by members of the military who spoke with The New York Times.

Also, it refers to some reported casualties that have suspicious air because of the circumstances in which they happened. The two cases that startle are the murder of a member of the Gulf Clan on May 25 and the death of former guerrilla Dimar Torres on April 22. The latter had already been made visible in the media since the victim was part of the demobilized soldiers of the Peace Agreement.

The article, finally, also recalls that these deaths promoted by the State are reminiscent of the case of false positives during the government of Álvaro Uribe. These consisted in passing the bodies of peasants and civilians as guerrilla casualties to increase the number of deaths in the state statistics. "We have returned to what we were doing before", was what one of the interviewed officers said.

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Accusations and defenses of Casey

The comments by those involved with the current government of Ivan Duque did not wait.

On the one hand, Major General Nicacio Martinez, one of the officers interviewed by The New York Times, published the documents of the statements he offered to the newspaper. On the other hand, politicians of conservative parties came out to criticize the article, not rejecting the data exposed in it, but also defame the journalist who did it.

This was the case of Maria Fernanda Cabal, senator of the Democratic Center, who posted photos of Casey with FARC guerrillas on her Twitter account, accompanied by the comment "This is the" journalist "Nicholas Casey, who was on tour with the FARC in the jungle. How much was he paid for this story? And for the current story against the Colombian army? #CaseyEsFakeNews . " What Cabal ignores is that the photos belong to an article in the New York Times itself, which consists of a visit to a FARC camp and ending with a critique of the armed group.

To Cabal's comment, the same American newspaper responded saying that "The New York Times does not take sides in any political conflict anywhere in the world" and that they "simply report what the documents, written by the army, say."

Because of the visibility and social network support that Cabal's tweet received, Casey made the decision to leave the country, as he felt that his security as a journalist was not guaranteed. As stated in the statement sent to El Espectador, "I have taken the step of staying out of the country because of the false accusations that were released yesterday on Twitter by María Fernanda Cabal and replicated by several politicians in the last 24 hours. This type of accusation has no support and is serious given the lack of security that Cabal already knows that we find in this country as journalists".

The journalist received support from organizations such as the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), who affirmed on Twitter that "We reject these trills that stigmatize and put the journalist @caseysjournal at risk".

However, this support was immediately criticized by another right-wing politician, the former president Álvaro Uribe. On his Twitter, he affirmed that "His meritorious goal of defending press freedom is blurred by defending the bias of" journalists "that end in the protection of narco-terrorism and defamation against the Colombian Armed Forces, democratic and punishing violations of the DDHH @FLIP_org". All this in reference to the defense previously exposed by FLIP.

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Finally, Senator Patrick Leahy, from United States' Democratic Party, and who signed the letter to Ivan Duque in concern about the appointment of military officers accused of violating human rights, asked President Duque that Senator Cabal needs to give evidence of her accusations on Casey. If the evidence is not provided, the government should "issue a public complaint", he said on Twitter.
For his part, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero and Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo signed a letter to the New York Times stating that "Nicholas Casey's article portrays a distorted, partial and biased view of the efforts of the Colombian State and their military are doing to stabilize the territories and consolidate security and order", according to El Espectador.

Beyond the media frenzy, it seems that Colombia is in the midst of persecution at the institutional level, as extralegal, of journalists trying to make visible the violence in the country. Not only is the case of Casey, but also that of the filmmaker Mauricia Lezama, who was assassinated a couple of weeks ago in Arauca during the casting for his next short film about the activist, Mayo Villareal. Thus, only two years after the signing of the Peace Agreement, in Colombia the lives of those who are trying to make visible and tell the stories that were hidden for so many years are in danger.

LatinAmerican Post | Juan Gabriel Bocanegra

Translated from "¿Persecución política? Periodista del New York Times escapó del país tras acusaciones"

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