Reporters Without Borders said Thursday that a covert Army intelligence program jeopardized press freedom and the public’s ability to stay informed regarding the Colombian peace process. The international NGO’s statement came in the midst of revelations published by the United States-based Univision television station that more than 2,600 emails exchanged between Colombia’s FARC rebel group and reporters covering the ongoing peace talks between the guerrillas and the Colombian government had been intercepted by the Colombian Army.
Codenamed “Andromeda,” the Army program also recorded the communications of opposition politicians in Colombia and delegates on either side of the peace talks, being held in Havana, Cuba since November 2012.
“We urge [the Colombian government] to take concrete steps to end such practices. And we call for a parliamentary commission of enquiry to establish the government’s role and to ensure that journalists are protected against any future government spying,” said Camille Soulier, head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk, in the released statement.
The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Reuters and the Spanish EFE were reportedly among the international news agencies whose reporters were targeted by the Army’s clandestine espionage program, along with journalists from Colombian media sources such as Caracol Radio, El Tiempo, and the newspaper El Turbion.
In light of the protections afforded journalists by the Colombian constitution and Constitutional Court case law, the revelations raise serious issues regarding source confidentiality, as well as the ability of journalists in Colombia to report on sensitive topics, said Soulier.
The revelations are more troubling, said the NGO, given the previous “DASgate” scandal of former President Alvaro Uribe Velez’s administration, in which it was revealed that Supreme Court justices, politicians, and dozens of journalists and NGOs active in the country were being spied on by the now-defunct DAS intelligence agency.
“Have the Colombian authorities learned nothing from the ‘Dasgate’ spying scandal?” asked Soulier. “Despite continuing judicial proceedings, the intensive surveillance apparatus put in place under former President Alvaro Uribe does not seem to have been dismantled. This shows that the authorities do not respect the work that journalist do, providing the public with information.”
In the three weeks since formal investigations into the wiretapping began, there have been no significant disciplinary measures taken against members of the Armed Forces or Defense Ministry. Thus far, the extent of the program remains unclear, as do the identifies of the persons who administered it.
- Spying on journalists compromises coverage of peace talks (Reporters Without Borders)