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Protective measures for journalists at risk cannot interfere with their freedom of expression rights, says constitutional court

(FLIP/IFEX) - The following is an abbreviated version of a 9 December 2008 FLIP alert:

After reviewing the case of a journalist who was under government protection as part of the Interior Ministry's Journalists' Protection Programme (Programa de Protección a Periodistas), the Constitutional Court ruled that the government cannot take measures to restrict a journalist's freedom of expression or right to information as a result of its obligation to provide the journalist with protection. In the ruling, the court made specific reference to the protection granted by the Department for Administrative Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS).

In October 2007, journalist Claudia Julieta Duque presented a writ of action against the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the Journalists' Protection Programme. Based on DAS reports, the programme suspended the protection measures that had previously been granted to Duque, alleging that she was misusing them At that time, a risk analysis conducted by the police indicated that the journalist faced an extraordinarily high level of risk.

The Constitutional Court confirmed two previous decisions that ordered the Interior Ministry to renew its protection for Duque and issued rulings on various fundamental aspects of the Journalists' Protection Program. The highlights of the court's decision covered issues relating to:

- the right to freedom of expression for public officials
- the right to due process, access to information and habeas data
- the application of proportionality and the competence of the security guards, in that when a journalist is in a situation of extraordinary risk the requirements to suspend government protection are more strict
- recognition of the challenges of maintaining source confidentiality while being accompanied by bodyguards

FLIP considers the court's decision to be a positive one. The ruling sets a precedent in favour of freedom of expression and the right to information in Colombia, in addition to raising important points about the Journalists' Protection Programme in general and official intervention in the Duque case specifically.

For further information on the Duque case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93111

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