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Concern over delays in defamation trial faced by journalist

(FLIP/IFEX) - Almost three years after a defamation complaint was filed against him by a senator, journalist Edinson Lucio Torres is still facing charges, in a legal process that keeps getting postponed for no apparent reason.

On 19 October 2006, Congressman Javier Cáceres Leal filed the complaint against Lucio Torres, who works for the editorial programme "Vox Populi", broadcast on Radio Vigía, in Todelar, Cartagena, Bolívar, and is the author of the blog "Lucio y sus notas".

At the time, Lucio Torres had reported on the radio programme and on his blog on allegations that Cáceres Leal was linked to paramilitary groups.

Lucio Torres, who is also the Bolívar head of the Polo Democrático political party, based his comments on a report published in "El Tiempo" newspaper. The report named eight members of Congress who, according to the Prosecutor's Office, were believed to be linked to paramilitary groups after their names were found in the computer of paramilitary leader "Jorge 40". Cáceres Leal's name appeared on the list. Lucio Torres had also corroborated the information from reports issued by the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris and the regional Ombudsman's Office.

On 14 February 2008, the Cartagena 34th Prosecutor's Office admitted the complaint against Lucio Torres for insult (punishable under Article 220 of the Criminal Code) but did not admit the charge for malicious representation (in accordance with Article 221 of the Criminal Code).

After examining the journalist's reports and his sources, the Prosecutor's Office established that Lucio Torres did not have sufficient proof for his allegations and had slandered the plaintiff. A hearing that was to be held in the Cartagena Third Criminal Tribunal has been postponed five times without an explanation, most recently on 1 June 2009.

FLIP expresses its concern over the inexplicable delays in the trial, in a case that is being put forth by a senator who was angered by the opinions expressed by a journalist.

More and more, criminal defamation cases are being used to silence critics of government officials. The lengthy duration of these cases further inhibits freedom of expression. FLIP is also concerned that opinions and expressions are being judged, when the judiciary is meant to be basing their decisions on concrete events and accusations.

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