Ruthless Colombian cartels are executing those who break their coronavirus lockdown rules.
Armed groups have introduced their own bloody system of “justice” and quarantine in regions where infection rates are out of control.
The worrying news was revealed by experts from the campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
To date, a least nine people have been killed for either refusing to adhere to the hardline restrictions or for daring to speak out against them.
The brutal attacks come as Covid-19 cases have been surging across the South American country after a relatively low figures at the start of the pandemic.
As of Wednesday, there were 165,169 confirmed cases in Colombia and 5,814 deaths.
Community leader Edison Leon was murdered after revealing a group called ‘La Mafia’ were forcing locals to staff a virus checkpoint in the region of Putumayo.
‘I am not willing to continue sending my people to death,’ he wrote to the local authorities just days before he was killed.
In another shocking case, three civilians were killed and four injured after they were gunned down while in a public park in the south of Colombia.
In another incident, two migrants from Venezuela were killed while drinking at a telephone repair shop.
It’s believed both the group attacks were sparked by people accused of breaking cartel quarantine rules.
According to HRW’s findings, the restrictions have been imposed in at least 11 of Colombia’s 32 states – Arauca, Bolívar, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Córdoba, Guaviare, Huila, Nariño, Norte de Santander and Putumayo.
In at least five, the gun-toting groups stand accused of using violence to enforce their rules.
In another four locals were threatened with bloody attacks, it’s claimed.
José Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s Americas director, said the shocking developments are down to the failure to keep control over swathes of Colombia after decades of in-fighting.
“In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he said.
“This abusive social control reflects the government’s long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations.”
Left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels and former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were among those said to be responsible.
The reports tells how in the port city of Tumaco – where local residents are banned by gangs from fishing – cartels are limiting their ability to earn money and food.
They have also imposed a 5pm curfew on citizens – far stricter than that imposed by the state.
In the provinces of Cauca and Guaviare armed groups torched motorcycles belonging to those who they claimed ignored their lockdown measures.
According to HRW, the armed post their hardline rules predominantly through pamphlets or messages on WhatsApp.
Their various restrictions include curfews, lockdowns, movement restrictions for people, cars and boats and limiting shop opening hours.
“Draconian ‘punishments’ imposed by armed groups to prevent the spread of Covid-19 mean that people in remote and impoverished communities across Colombia risk being attacked and even killed if they leave their homes,” Vivanco said.
“The government should urgently ramp up its efforts to protect these communities, ensuring they have adequate food and water and protect their health from the effects of Covid-19.”
The Sun Online has previously reported how coronavirus is ripping through swathes of Latin America.
It has been ravaging food markets in Latin America and overwhelming communities from the packed city slums to tribes in the Amazon.
The region is now the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic with authorities finding bodies in the streets as they struggle to enforce lockdown restrictions.
Brazil remains the worst-hit country in Latin America and has reported nearly two million infections.