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Attorney General's Office fails to move ahead in murders of 16 journalists

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami - July 29, 2009 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today called attention to what it described as the "scandalous impunity" still surrounding the majority of crimes committed against journalists in Colombia following a review of 16 cases in which the Attorney General's Office there has made no headway in the investigations.

"The murder cases of 16 journalists in Colombia have been suspended, shelved or withdrawn ( . . . ) by public prosecutors who are responsible for identifying those responsible and bringing them to justice," declared a report by the IAPA's Rapid Response Unit (RRU) in Colombia. "These cases have a number of similarities; for example they were all committed in Colombian provinces between 1993 and 2009 and were investigated by state or district attorneys," the report added.

The report went on to say that "in the great majority of cases the prosecutors decided to suspend the investigations or stop them entirely, given a year had passed since the crime was committed." This is what happened, it pointed out, in the cases of the murder of Rodolfo Julio Torres, Arquímedes Arias Henao, Hernando Rangel Moreno, Álvaro Alonso Escobar, Gildardo Ariza Olarte, Iván Dario Pelayo, Denis Sánchez Lora and Mario Prada Díaz.

Other homicide cases suspended or not pursued include those of Alfredo Antonio Matiz, Fabio Leonardo, John Jairo Restrepo, María Elena Salinas, Marco Antonio Ayala, Juan Carlos Benavides, José Nel Muñoz and Jaime Alberto Madero.

IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, declared, "The scandalous impunity in the murder cases contributes to violence being unleashed against journalists." He called for "greater efforts for justice to be carried out and for the freedom of the press to not continue to be weakened."

Although the RRU called for the cases to be reviewed and reinstated within the Human Rights Unit of the Colombian Attorney General's Office in Bogotá, it received no positive response and has asked that "the investigative officials who were responsible for these cases explain the reasons why they were suspended or shelved shortly after the crimes occurred," adding that "on this point, it has not been possible to get a response from the investigative agency."

The RRU's own investigation also found other similarities in the cases, among them the fact that "the victims were reporters working for small radio stations or newspapers in small communities in various regions of Colombia where there is a significant presence of armed groups. Almost all of them had received threats and all had aired accusations prior to their death."

On these cases, said the RRU report written by its investigative reporter in Colombia, Diana Calderón, "the Attorney General's Office has no answers; the latest report issued by the National Prosecutors Directorate in April 2008 limits itself to mentioning the names of the murdered journalists and as the last action by the authorities there the word 'suspension' or 'withdrawal' appears. Since then, that agency of the Attorney General's Office has not offered any information whatsoever."

Click here to read the RRU's report (in Spanish only)

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