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Media outlets concerned over potential blocking of their websites, suspicious electrical cuts take place at radio station

(FLIP/IFEX) - Several community-based media outlets, belonging to indigenous groups in the department of Cauca, have said that their websites have been blocked and suspicious cuts of electricity services have taken place at a radio station in the same area. The incidents took place at the same time as demonstrations by the indigenous population which have resulted in confrontations with security forces. Journalists who have been covering the demonstrations have expressed their concern over the risks that they confront on an ongoing basis.

On 14 October 2008, indigenous communities in Cauca began to hold a series of demonstrations, alleging that the national government had failed to carry through with promises covered by several previously signed agreements. As part of the demonstrations, the indigenous groups blocked the Panamerican highway, which runs from the departmental capital of Popayán to Cali, in the Cauca Valley. The protest marches were originally peaceful, but confrontations took place when police officers attempted to reopen the highway. The resulting disturbances, which are ongoing, have resulted in two deaths and 70 people injured.

On the day that the demonstrations began, the websites of the Association of Indigenous Town Councils of Northern Cauca (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca, ACÍN) and the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC) went out of service.

The CRIC's communications coordinator, Jorge Caballero, told FLIP that his organisation's website was out of service for more than 12 hours until they were able to temporarily transfer it to another server. Cabaellero said, "It's very 'coincidental' that the website crashed at exactly the same time that the demonstrations began. This is not the first time this has happened." Caballero noted that during previous demonstrations, the organisation's website had crashed on the same day the protests took place.

A member of the ACÍN's communications staff, Manuel Rosental, said that his organisation's website, which also went out of service on the day of the protests, contained a lot of information about the demonstrations. "This is perhaps the fourth time our website has been blocked at the same time that there are [demonstrations]," he said.

According to information provided by several indigenous organisations, several radio stations also experienced difficulties as they were subjected to electrical service cuts while they were broadcasting information about the demonstrations. The La Libertad radio station, which is based in the municipality of Totoró and rebroadcasts to the communities of Morales and Caldono, was among those affected. On this issue, Caballero said, "Power outages are common here and, as such, we cannot be sure whether [the electrical cuts at the radio station] were intentional. However, it appears suspicious to us because this has happened several times when we are broadcasting this type of information."

Sources close to FLIP in Cauca have said that there is a possibility that the obstruction of independent media outlets is aimed at preventing the dissemination of allegations of abuses committed by security forces during demonstrations.

Several journalists who are working for both national and local media outlets have said that, due to the current level of tension in Cauca, they are concerned for their safety when covering events in the region. "We are in the line of fire," one journalist said.

In statements made to FLIP, the commander of the Cauca police, Colonel Luis Joaquín Camacho, said that he has no knowledge of the incidents described by the journalists. He added that during the recent demonstrations, the police have been "very open with media personnel" and have "given statements and information about what is taking place." Camacho promised to provide security to any journalists who consider it to be necessary.

FLIP expresses its concern over the actions against the media in Cauca and calls on the authorities to conduct an investigation into what has taken place. The organisation also calls on the security forces to respond appropriately to demonstrations and to avoid putting media personnel and members of indigenous groups at risk. Finally, FLIP calls on the authorities to provide protection for journalists covering the demonstrations.

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