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IAPA dismayed at early release of journalist's murderer

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is an IAPA press release:

IAPA questions accumulated "points" leading to early release of Orlando Sierra murderer
The organization calls on Colombian's president Uribe not to stigmatize journalists, citing the case of an El Nuevo Herald correspondent

MIAMI, Florida (October 8, 2007) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed dissatisfaction at the Sept. 30 release from prison in Colombia of Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, the contract killer who murdered Orlando Sierra, managing editor of La Patria, on January 30, 2002.

"How can you explain that a person sentenced to 29 years in prison is freed after serving only five years?," declared IAPA 2nd Vice President Enrique Santos Calderón.

Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, pointed out the contradiction in the fact that the murder of a journalist is considered a serious crime under the Code of Criminal Procedure "while in practice the granting of time off ensures reduced penalties, which ends up feeding impunity."

Zapata was arrested in possession of the murder weapon the same day of the crime in front of La Patria in the city of Caldas, Manizales province. The hitman claimed he had killed Sierra by mistake and by entering a guilty plea received a sentence reduced by one third. Under successive reductions granted him by the law, he served only 67 months in prison before being released.

Two other persons were also convicted of carrying out the murder, while the masterminds continue to go unpunished. This case led the IAPA to produce the documentary "The Battle of Silence," which shows the political upheaval in the Manizales region surrounding the journalist's murder and is a key piece in the organization's efforts to bring the issue of impunity to light.

The IAPA meanwhile called on Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe not to censure journalists and news media "since that works against basis human rights and the unfettered practice of journalism."

The request came after his recent references to Gonzalo Guillen, Colombia correspondent of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald. Uribe called Guillen a "slanderer" and charged that he was behind a book about the late drug trafficker Pablo Escobar in which Uribe is shown as a friend and facilitator of Escobar's illicit drug trade.

Guillen, who is under the protection of Colombia's Interior Ministry after receiving threats to his life, has denied the accusations and announced that he plans to leave the country.

The two cases will be raised in corresponding resolutions to be adopted at the IAPA's General Assembly opening in Miami this Friday.

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