Colombia — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 4:10 pm on 15th July 2021.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 4:10 pm, 15th July 2021

I am the secretary of the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group, and I want to raise again, as I have done in previous debates on Colombia, the plight of journalists—the abuse of their human rights and the violations of press freedom. The International Federation of Journalists has recently published another report highlighting the targeting of journalists by the Colombian authorities, in particular the killings, physical attacks and obstruction of their work, as well as the undermining of basic press freedoms. This is coming from the national police, public officials and reactionary elements associated with the current Government.

I want to leave the debate with at least some of the words of practitioners in the field in Colombia. Adriana Hurtado Cortés is the president the Colombian Federation of Journalists. Let me quote her directly and briefly:

“There’s an evident regression in the causes of violence against journalists;
they are spied on in the traditional way and they’re harassed on social media.”

She says that politicians stigmatise them through messages on social media and accuse journalists of

“spreading misinformation, damaging democracy and polarizing society.”

Aggression against journalists has again increased. There are threats, physical attacks, killings, smear campaigns, legal actions aimed at censoring their work, illegal espionage, and many journalists forced into exile. There is a lack of labour protection for journalists. As a result of the pandemic, they are in a particularly weak economic situation, but their main concern is the loss of the rule of law, the Government acting with impunity and the slowness of justice when crimes against journalists are investigated.

I repeat what others have said: we now need an extremely strong statement from the Government, which links up with European and other international parties, to condemn the human rights abuses of the Colombian Government. I would like inserted in those condemnations the demand for a free press and the protection of journalists, which is essential for any democratic society.

In the past, we have not had the use of other powers in this country. I would therefore like the Government to start mentioning to Colombian Government officials that we now have the Magnitsky clause and, if necessary, we will use that to target human rights abusers through our own legislative system.