Thu, 20 Jun 2019

Rios left Colombia after at least three lawmakers circulated a photograph that wrongly identified him as "New York Times" Andes bureau chief, Nicholas Casey

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 22 May 2019.

The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Colombian authorities to ensure the safety of photojournalist Federico Rios, who was forced to flee his country after being harassed online over comments by lawmakers.

Rios, a freelancer who works for outlets including The New York Times, told CPJ today that he left Colombia on May 19, for safety reasons, after at least three lawmakers circulated a photograph that wrongly identified Rios as New York Times Andes bureau chief, Nicholas Casey. Rios said that the lawmakers' posts were retweeted thousands of times, and that other users harassed him and accused him of being a "guerrillero" and being in the pay of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) paramilitary guerrilla group.

Casey also left Colombia after several lawmakers falsely accused him over social media of associating with FARC, CPJ documented this week. He told the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that such accusations are serious due to the lack of security and safety in Colombia for journalists.

The harassment followed a New York Times article by Casey, alleging that the head of Colombia's army ordered troops to double the number of criminals and militants they kill.

"The irresponsible conduct by several Colombian lawmakers, who made false and incendiary accusations, has real effects on the day-to-day lives of journalists, especially local ones such as Federico Rios," said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. "In a country where journalists are at risk of attack for their work, elected officials should be working to ensure their safety, rather than leveling claims that further endanger them."

The photograph of Rios was first circulated by Senator Maria Fernanda Cabal, from the Democratic Center party, on May 18. That tweet identified Rios incorrectly as Casey. A report published yesterday by Agence France-Presse's Spanish-language fact checkers, AFP Factual, who spoke with Casey and Rios, confirmed that the person pictured on the back of a motorcycle driven by a FARC rebel was Rios and not Casey.

Rios told CPJ that the report reignited the issue, causing a second wave of harassment aimed at him. Rios said that he did not work on the New York Times article that led to the harassment of Casey. He worked on a separate articlepublished days before. The journalist added that the Times has been supportive throughout the incident.

Rios told CPJ that he has covered the peace negotiation between Colombian authorities and rebel groups in recent years, and that the picture circulated was taken during a previous journalism assignment to a FARC encampment.

The tweets from the lawmakers showing the picture of Rios have been retweeted more than 5,400 times, according to CPJ's review of posts on the social media network.

The New York Times confirmed to CPJ today that it was Rios in the photo. When CPJ requested comment on the harassment earlier this week, New York Timesdirected CPJ to its response to Cabal in which the paper said that it does not take sides in political conflict in any part of the world, and that it reports impartially.

Cabal did not immediately respond to CPJ's requests for comment.

Colombia is a dangerous country for journalists, ranking eighth on CPJ's annual Impunity Index of places where journalists are slain and their killers go free.

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