Globe, Latin America

New attack on freedom of expression: Arrest warrant issued against William Parra

Large numbers of media sources and journalist associations from across the world have already come out in defence of William Parra,  the Colombian journalist well-known for his news reports on the internal armed conflict which has rocked Colombia for the last 50 years. The Prisma, which is well aware of his truthful and brave work, echoes these voices of solidarity and support, believing that the profession of journalism is one of the few tools that exist to disseminate the truth and reveal, in Colombia’s case, the reality that lies behind the internal conflict and the main figures involved.

The colombian journalist William Parra.

Hundreds of journalists from around the world, as well as thinkers, academics, defenders of human rights and individuals from different social groups, believe that the warrant issued by the Colombian Public Prosecutor’s Office is the product of a set-up to gag the Colombian journalist, restrict his work and discredit him and in turn threaten freedom of expression and news reports of journalists.

William Parra is widely recognised for his research and reports into the conflict between the guerrillas and paramilitary groups in Colombia, carried out beyond the official sources. At the beginning of this week, the Terror Unit of the Colombian Public Prosecutor’s Office requested his arrest, a warrant upheld by the Colombian Public Prosecutor last Tuesday, 7th September.

The Public Prosecutor accuses Parra of ‘rebellion and a conscious effort to break the law’ in collaboration with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The international arrest warrant means that Parra, who has asked for exile in Venezuela, could be arrested anywhere in the world.

The accusations

Those aforementioned authorities link Parra with the leader of the FARC, Raúl Reyes, who was assassinated in March 2008 during a bombing of a guerrilla camp in Ecuador, carried out by the Police and the Colombian army. They cite as proof that the name of Parra was found in the computer of the guerrilla leader, discovered after the attack. William Parra was press officer of the government of ex-Colombian President Ernesto Samper (1994 – 1998) and correspondent for the Latin American television channel Telesur, with headquarters in Venezuela, between 2006 and 2008.

Public Prosecutor Guillermo Mendoza.

In statements given to a Colombian radio station The F.M, with regards to the Public Prosecutor Guillermo Mendoza, William Parra said: “I challenge him publically to present the first piece of evidence and first thing in the morning I’m up in front of the Public Prosecutor and I’ll rot in jail if he is able to present the first piece of public evidence, because he has not let me have access to the inquiry. Otherwise the Public Prosecutor’s Office must accept that this is a judicial set-up against me…

…let him tell me with whom I met and where or whether I even opened my mouth to profess the name of the FARC or offered to trade weapons for the FARC. If he demonstrates that, I’m ready to present myself to respond to the accusations that they are making against me.” In that interview, he declared that his relationship with Raúl Reyes was exclusively of a journalistic nature and that he is being hunted down for his work on the conflict in Colombia.

Voices of support

The Prisma expresses its total backing for William Parra and demands a halt to this permanent harassment and persecution against journalists in Colombia who are seeking to report from a different perspective to the official one, and not just toe the line. The criminalization of their critical and brave work, as well as the slur on their reputation and names makes being a journalist in that country an impossible exercise to carry out ethically and with journalistic responsibility.

The presumption that in Colombia the press is free is a media myth because in practice, when censorship does not come from the State or from other sources, it arises out of self-censorship. The Prisma also appeals to all Parra’s colleagues, for them to adopt a solid attitude of support and treat this news from an informed standpoint that does not examine any further the doubts that exist today about Parra. In other words, that they do not reverse the principle of presuming his innocence until finding him guilty, for that of presuming his guilt until finding him innocent.

There are several declarations of support for William Parra. We cover here some of the many messages, published in different media sources:

Felap: ‘The Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP) declares its solidarity with the Colombian journalist William Parra Jaimes, in the face of the systematic harassment he is suffering on the part of the Terror Unit of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, in his country. That very same organisation, as his own colleague points out, would have taken out an international arrest warrant against him. Today William Parra Jaimes is a political refugee in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and let us remember that, in his guise as journalist of different media sources and during his time at Telesur, he received shows of support from different organisations – among those the FELAP – every time the government of Álvaro Uribe tried to cast doubt on his character and professionalism.

Jorge Enrique Botero: “It’s just one of the many responses that the Colombian government carries out against any expression of independence and against any voice that strays away from the official truth. They’re making him pay for his decisive stance in the profession of journalism, because he is a man that has had the inquiring mind, the curiosity and the boldness to go beyond certain boundaries and go and cover live and directly, as is to be expected from real journalists, the truly mysterious, hidden reality of the armed conflict that Colombia has been living through for more than 50 years.”

Hernando Calvo Ospina, a Colombian journalist settled in France, points out that all of this is “the judicialisation of the freedom of expression, whereby the alternative press and spokespeople are harassed and hounded; where all of them, and I include myself in that, who criticise the government, the violation of human rights in Colombia and the whole Colombian system are automatically assumed as if we were guerrillas and above all, in particular, part of the FARC…”

“It should be demonstrated by the court system before issuing an international arrest warrant against him, as if he were among the worst terrorists in the world. If they go ahead and do that, they can do it against any other person or journalist right now.”

Alfredo Molano defined Parra as a “man committed to reporting the truth and reality in Colombia and for that reason he is one of the most well-known and loved reporters in Colombia”… “We will have to wait a while for the truth to come to the surface and for William to be completely free.” He dismissed the purported evidence against Parra: “If Reyes computers were rigged by the DAS, they were not ‘eavesdropped’ (illegally phone-tapped) but ‘inserted’, because that is one of the most corrupt institutions in Colombia.”

Pascual Serrano: “The arrest warrant once again demonstrates how more and more absurd and surreal the warrants are becoming, issued by the Colombian Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is like saying the Colombian army or the Colombian government. Parra’s only crimes are that of rigour in his work, professionalism, duty and the reporting of crimes that are being committed in Colombia.”

(Translated by Matthew Dunford)

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