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CPJ concerned about lack of progress in investigation of journalist's kidnapping and torture

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 14 September 2000 CPJ letter to President Andrés Pastrana Arango:

September 14, 2000

His Excellency Andrés Pastrana Arango
President of the Republic of Colombia
Casa de Nariño
Bogotá, Colombia

VIA FACSIMILE: 571-286-7434 / 286-7937 / 284-2186

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the lack of progress in the prosecutor general's investigation into the kidnapping and torture of Jineth Bedoya Lima, a noted investigative reporter with the Bogotá-based daily El Espectador.

According to CPJ's research, Bedoya was almost certainly abducted by right-wing paramilitary forces. Circumstantial evidence would also suggest that Colombian law-enforcement personnel were complicit in the kidnapping, which took place in broad daylight outside a local prison. Yet to date, investigators have made no serious effort to interview prison guards and other key witnesses.

As Your Excellency is aware, Bedoya was kidnapped on May 25 outside La Modelo Prison, near Bogotá. After being drugged and abducted at gunpoint, the journalist was driven over three hours to the city of Villavicencio, where she was brutally assaulted. Bedoya was found 10 hours later in a state of nervous collapse, crawling out of a roadside garbage dump.

The likely motive for Bedoya's kidnapping was El Espectador's coverage of an April 27 battle at La Modelo between common criminals and inmates who belonged to right-wing paramilitary factions. El Espectador suggested that paramilitary leaders might have ordered execution-style killings during the battle. Bedoya reported extensively on the prison riots, apparently offending paramilitary leaders at La Modelo in the process.

Bedoya visited La Modelo on May 25 in order to interview a paramilitary leader known as "The Baker" ("El Panadero"). She hoped to confront him about recent death threats to herself and some of her colleagues at El Espectador.

Carlos Castaño, leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the leading paramilitary organization, has publicly denied that his organization had anything to do with Bedoya's kidnapping. But before being driven to Villavicencio, a paramilitary stronghold, Bedoya was taken to a known paramilitary safe house within walking distance of the prison gate. Even if Castaño was not directly involved, it seems virtually certain that the attack was carried out by persons associated with the AUC.

We appreciate Your Excellency's commitment to "strengthen the actions [the government] has taken in defense of freedom of expression," as stated in your June 28 letter to CPJ. We also applaud Decree 1592 of August 18, establishing the Program for the Protection of Journalists and Social Communicators, as a step in the right direction. However, we believe that Colombian authorities must investigate attacks against journalists more forcefully if these initiatives are to succeed.

CPJ supports Your Excellency's decision to provide Bedoya with two bodyguards at all times, but we think the best protection would be to bring those responsible for her torture to justice. This would show Bedoya and her colleagues that the Colombian government and judicial system can guarantee both their safety and their right to report freely on the country's escalating civil conflict.

CPJ would welcome any new information that might emerge in the course of the Bedoya investigation. Thank you for your consideration.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director


Alfonso Gomez Méndez, Attorney General
Jaime Bernal Cuéllar, Prosecutor General
José Fernando Castro Caicedo, Public Advocate
Luis Alberto Moreno-Mejía, Colombian Ambassador to the U.S.
Curtis Kamman, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia
Santiago A. Canton, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (OAS)
Asociacion Nacional de Diarios
Corporacion Medios para la Paz
Fundacion para la Libertad de Prensa
Fundacion para un Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano
Fundacion Social
Inter American Press Association
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Amnesty International
Article 19 (United Kingdom)
Artikel 19 (The Netherlands)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
International Center for Journalists
International Federation of Journalists
International PEN
International Press Institute
Harold Hongju Koh, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Alain Modoux, director, UNESCO Freedom of Expression Program
The Newspaper Guild
The North American Broadcasters Association
Overseas Press Club
Reporters Sans Frontières
Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Society of Professional Journalists
World Association of Newspapers
World Press Freedom Committee

Recommended Action

Similar appeals can be sent to:

His Excellency Andrés Pastrana Arango
President of the Republic of Colombia
Casa de Nariño
Bogotá, Colombia
Fax: +571 286 7434 / 286 7937 / 284 2186

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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