The International Press Institute (IPI) today demanded an investigation into the death of a Colombian journalist who police say suffered fatal head injuries after falling from a police vehicle — despite claims from family and colleagues that the journalist was instead beaten and violently thrown from the truck.
Guillermo Quiroz Delgado died in a hospital in the northern Colombian city of Sincelejo after having been in intensive care since Nov. 20, when the disputed incident occurred. According to regional media, Delgado, on assignment for the news outlet Notisabanas, had traveled to the town of San Pedro (some 50 km northeast of Sincelejo) to cover local protests against an energy company, Pacific Rubiales, accused of exploiting the area’s residents.
A Notisabanas representative told IPI over the telephone that police who had arrived to control the protesters detained Delgado while the journalist was photographing the scene and demanded registration information for his motorcycle. The representative emphasised that Delgado had made clear that he was a journalist and had presented identification proving his profession. However, when Delgado handed over what were apparently “incomplete” registration documents for the motorcycle, officers seized the bike and loaded it onto a police vehicle.
Police officials were quoted in media reports as claiming that Delgado had attempted to assault an officer and later jumped onto the police vehicle to protest the motorcycle’s removal, only to then fall to the ground.
Family members and media colleagues dispute this version of events, however. Speaking to IPI, the Notisabanas representative indicated that, after climbing onto the truck, the journalist had been beaten by police inside the vehicle and then thrown to the ground, citing statements made by Delagado himself before his death.
Fray Mercado, the journalist’s brother-in-law, asserted in media reports that Delgado’s injuries did not match the police’s story, and said: “My brother-in-law was conscious the entire time [in the hospital] and said that the police had beaten him and thrown him from the truck.”
IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said, “This is a tragic and deeply disturbing incident that needs to be fully investigated by provincial and federal law-enforcement officials. If acts of violence against Guillermo Quiroz Delgado led to his death, those responsible must be held accountable. Moreover, the suggestion that police may have attempted to obstruct Mr. Delgado’s coverage of an event clearly in the public interest should be taken very seriously by Colombian authorities.”
Mills added: “IPI extends its condolences to the family and colleages of Mr. Delgado at this difficult moment.”
According to IPI’s Death Watch, apart from Delgado, two journalists have been killed in Colombia in 2012. Both of those killings remain unsolved.