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Columnist sentenced to three days' detention

(IAPA/IFEX) - MIAMI, Florida (December 3, 2009) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed regret at a Colombian court decision ordering columnist Mauricio Vargas to three days' detention for failing to issue a court-ordered correction to his comments about a judge belonging to the Judiciary High Council.

The arrest order was handed down by the Bogota Circuit Criminal Court following a contempt complaint filed by Judge José Alfredo Escobar who claimed that Vargas had not issued a correction that met the criteria of a previous ruling. Vargas had criticized the judge in an article published in November 2008 in the newspaper El Tiempo headlined "Judges in the Wrong Place." The content of this article was later rectified in another column under the headline "Escobar Failed to Silence Us," but was considered insufficient by the judge.

IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre, deputy director of Diario Las Américas, expressed the organization's concern "that a judge has handed down a decision, ordering the arrest of a journalist, which ignores precedents established on decriminalization and constitutional guarantees that protect reporting on matters of public interest and the freedom to express opinions and judgments."

Robert Rivard, President of the IAPA Committee on Press Freedom and Information Rivard, and editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, made a personal appeal calling on the Bogotá High Court "to carefully review whether the objective of rectification was achieved and to avoid criminal charges that could harm the right to opinion and freedom of the press."

The judge who ruled in favor of Judge Escobar had also previously ordered Vargas to issue a retraction. Escobar, in turn, ruled against the editor of the magazine Semana, Alejandro Santos, in a conflict over rectification, although the arrest order was not carried out.

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