Telesur Correspondent Arrested by Colombia Upon his Return from Venezuela

Telesur journalist Fredy Muñoz Altamiranda was detained Sunday by Colombian security forces on charges of “rebellion and terrorism.” Telesur President Andrés Izarra suggested the arrest could be an attack on the new Latin American TV channel.

Caracas , November 21, 2006 (— Telesur journalist Fredy Muñoz Altamiranda was detained Sunday by Colombian security forces on charges of “rebellion and terrorism.” Muñoz was detained by the Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS) as he returned to Colombia, where he is a Telesur correspondent, from a visit to Venezuela.

DAS justified the arrest and detention as follows, “The District Attorney’s office saw merit in hearing [Muñoz] relation to a three year investigation forwarded to it by detectives of the DAS for terrorist attacks that occurred in 2002 in Barranquilla and Cartagena.” No evidence was presented in support of the claim.

Telesur vigorously defended Muñoz. Its president Andrés Izarra said that this was an attack on the credibility of Telesur and of Venezuela. “By chance, the most aggressive accusations and most harsh attacks that we have experienced at Telesur come from Colombia. At this point we don’t discount the detention of Fredy Muñoz, which came so surprisingly, could be linked to a dark source,” said Izarra.

Telesur has often had difficulties with the Colombian government. In 2005 Telesur broadcast a report on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), which have been waging a 40-year guerrilla battle against the Colombian government. Both Colombian president Álvaro Uribe and the US government expressed their discomfort at the broadcasts.

Fredy Muñoz himself has rejected the charges and denounced his arrest as an attack on press freedom. In a message released from custody he said, “Colleagues and friends, from this physical enclosure I send my message of thanks to you all, for continuing to gamble life and liberty on the this necessary business.”

Muñoz also said that for the over 12 years he has been working as a journalist, he always “held in the center the peaceful solution to our differences.” He arrest, he said, is due to the fact that “paramilitarism continues to coerce and intimidate anyone who pronounces themselves against it.”

Telesur was created by the Venezuelan government to offer an alternative and progressive perspective from what it considered the North American slant on the Latin American news offered by broadcasters such as CNN in Spanish. The Latin American channel was launched in partnership between the governments of Venezuela (51%), Cuba (20%), Argentina (19%), and Uruguay (10%).

However, even organisations that have been critical of Venezuela joined in the condemnation yesterday. Reporters Without Borders has said that the arrest of Muñoz is a “simple case of misuse of power. If it turns out that it was indeed linked to the broadcast a year ago on Telesur of interviews with the guerrilla, then the Colombian government has made itself guilty of a press freedom violation. How can a journalist, interviewing an alleged terrorist become a terrorist in turn? If this is the argument, it is absurd and dangerous. Fredy Muñoz must be released.”

Izarra pointed out that there is reason to be concerned for Muñoz’s safety. Izarra cited an incident in which the same Barranquilla prosecutor’s office arrested Alfredo Correa, an academic from the Simon Bolivar University, who was accused of being an “ideologue” for the FARC. It took one month to clear him of all charges and shortly after he was released, he was assassinated, presumably by paramilitary soldiers.

Izarra further commented that it was odd that Muñoz was allowed to leave for Venezuela after the arrest warrant for issued for him on November 10 and was arrested only upon his return to Colombia.