“It’s very worrying for us,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, referring to the Nov. 19 arrest by Colombian secret police of journalist Fredy Munoz on charges of terrorism and “rebellion.”

Apparently, Maduro said, “they are looking to frighten this young asset of Colombian journalism and trying … to silence his voice, that of independent journalism that looks for truth and is trying to tell Latin America that another reality is possible.”

A journalist for 11 years, Munoz had worked since September 2005 as correspondent in Colombia for the 18-month-old Telesur news channel.

Munoz is still in jail and his case has reverberated widely as an attack on press freedom and on Telesur, a television network operated by Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia to serve as an alternative to news outlets beholden to business interests.

(At press time, Telesur was reporting that Munoz’s release was imminent. Look for an update next week.)

Munoz gained recognition for his articles exposing the terrible conditions facing 15,000 residents of La Soledad near Barranquilla, Colombia, who for 20 years had endured contaminated water, mountains of trash and rat-borne sicknesses.

Describing himself as a “tireless reporter,” he told prosecutors, “I have no time to be a terrorist leader.”

Citing testimony from three jailed guerrillas, prosecutors allege that Munoz carried out bomb attacks in Barranquilla and Cartegena in 2002 under the name Jorge Eliécer. But one of the three, Yainer Rodríguez Vázques, has recanted, saying he can no longer “keep on accusing people I don’t know” and that the guerrilla Eliécer was killed by paramilitaries. He had initially cooperated with prosecutors to reduce his sentence.

Munoz’s defenders claim that the Colombian government, in jailing the reporter, is trying to criminalize Telesur. For the right-wing Uribe government, “the watchword is cover-up,” said Aram Aharonian, Telesur’s director, especially about “what is happening in Latin America.”

Aharonian pointed out that Telesur has reported on the killings of peasants in Cajamarca by the Colombian army, the government passing off of murdered civilians as dead guerrillas, the slaughter of elite police forces in Jamundí by soldiers, another soldier-police clash in Guaitarilla and financial ties between army personnel and narcotraffickers in Atlantico state. Colombian officials understandably see Munoz and Telesur as a threat.

For Fredy Munoz the stakes are high. Since Alvaro Uribe became president in 2000, 18 journalists have been killed in Colombia. Aharonian said, “Thousands of honest journalists have paid and are paying for their ethics, their dedication, with prison, persecution, threats and violence.”

Demanding “no more reporters in jail,” 2,000 people from social and political organizations marched in Bogota on Dec. 10 as they rejected the confining of “information behind bars.” Demonstrators were on the streets again on Dec. 19.

Over 430 Telesur reporters and producers sent holiday greetings to Munoz: “They locked you up trying to silence the free press and your comrades. … We respond, as ones who, loving this profession, do our work fearlessly, committed to the voiceless and the weak with unrelenting pursuit of truth.” They told Munoz that “honest colleagues throughout the world” are demanding his freedom.

Within two weeks of Munoz’s jailing, a statement signed by 1,000 academicians, journalists and intellectuals forming a “Network in Defense of Humanity” was circulating widely on the Internet. It denounced accusations against the reporter as “absolutely wild.” Several international press federations have called for his freedom.

Munoz has continued writing from jail. He accuses “the backbone of society” of promoting “massacres, selective assassinations, forced displacement,” especially in the rich Antioquia region where “the underlying theme is a cursed, silent treasure, the business of producing and exporting cocaine.”

Thus the spectacle unfolds of a courageous prisoner wielding words to condemn the repressive government that has put him in jail.

“We are all Fredy Munoz,” declared Aharonian, adding, “We are all Telesur.”

atwhit @ megalink.net