August 15, 2008
CARACAS -- Telesur is again mired in controversy over its alleged links to Colombia's leftist FARC guerrillas.
The Caracas-based TV channel, most of whose funding comes from the government of Hugo Chávez, was accused in May of faking the origin of a FARC video. Now a Colombian journalist who works for the channel is accused of being a FARC collaborator.
William Parra, a freelance contributor who Telesur says is employed on ''special projects,'' has been summoned for questioning by anti-terrorism prosecutors in Colombia.
They say Parra's name was found on the computers that belonged to the FARC's number two, Raúl Reyes, who was killed in March in a cross-border raid on his camp in Ecuador.
This is the second time a Telesur journalist has been accused of links to the FARC. In November 2006, the channel's Bogotá correspondent, Fredy Muñoz, was held for over a month on similar charges before being released. Authorities later said fresh evidence had emerged, showing he was a guerrilla explosives expert, but were unable to rearrest him because he had disappeared.
Like Muñoz, Parra denies the charges. In a statement issued late last month, he said that there were serious doubts whether ''due process can be guaranteed'' because the case was being handled by the anti-terrorism unit of the prosecutor's office.
It is unclear whether the journalist will show up for questioning on the appointed day, next Wednesday . He is thought to be outside Colombia, probably in Venezuela, but did not respond to messages left on his Caracas cellphone.
At Telesur, no one could be found to comment. The only person said to be authorized to speak about the case, information director Patricia Villegas, was away from the office. No one else admitted to having seen Parra recently, and Telesur has issued no statement on the Colombian summons.
Press-freedom organizations, however, are following the case closely, concerned that Parra may be right when he accuses the authorities of persecuting him for his journalism.
''The fact that Parra's name has supposedly been found on a FARC computer is not proof of any wrongdoing,'' said Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
However, Alfredo Rangel, director of the Security and Democracy Foundation in Bogotá, argues that the threat to press freedom in Colombia comes from guerrilla and paramilitary groups, not from the government.