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Two former congressmen implicated in journalist's murder

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, September 29, 2010 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today welcomed a decision by the Colombian Attorney General's Office to link two former congressmen to the January 30, 2002, murder of journalist Orlando Sierra Hernández, calling it "a great step forward in the battle against impunity."

The Attorney General's decision was based on statements by witnesses that implicated former Congress members Francisco Ferney Tapasco González and his son, Dixon Ferney Tapasco Triviño as instigators in the murder of Sierra, managing editor of La Patria, Manizales, Caldas. The actual killer was Fernando Soto Zapata, a hit man who shot Sierra three times in the head as he stood with his daughter outside the newspaper's offices.

IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre, editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, declared, "We are witnessing a step forward in the battle against impunity, not only because the case has been reopened but also because the masterminds have been linked to the crime – a rare occurrence that makes us hopeful that this case will be solved in its entirety."

At the request of the IAPA on February 22, 2006, the Attorney General ordered the case be moved to the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Unit in Bogotá because the State Attorney's Office in Manizales had made no progress in identification of the masterminds. At the time the Attorney General's Office called on former congressman Ferney Tapasco to give voluntary testimony, but he was not then linked to the crime.

Aguirre added, "We are pleased that the Attorney General's Office has decided to continue its search for justice in the Orlando Sierra case, and we are encouraged by the commitment they made to us a few weeks ago to reopen proceedings in 27 more unsolved cases of murdered journalists."

Sierra's murder is one of the cases that the IAPA has adopted as a symbol of the battle against impunity in Colombia. The organization's Rapid Response Unit investigated and followed up on the case and keeps it in the international forefront through reports, resolutions and periodical meetings with members of the three branches of federal government. It also authored, together with the national newspaper association Andiarios, a study on the irregular granting of paroles - early releases from prison - which resulted in training sessions for prosecutors and judges as well as the possibility of legal reforms, and produced the documentary "The Battle of Silence," that exposed the case and made the public aware of the reaches of impunity.

Tapasco Triviño was sentenced to seven years in prison for his links to the paramilitary organization Cacique Pipintá Front, while his father remains under investigation for his own alleged links to the same group.

On May 16, 2005 Luis Tabares Hernández, also known as Francisco Antonio Quintero (alias Tilín), and Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco (a.k.a. Pereque) were sentenced to 28 years in prison for hiring the hit man who killed Sierra. The perpetrator, Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, was convicted and sentenced in May 2002 to 19 years and six months' imprisonment but released in October 2007 after serving only five years behind bars following successive sentence reductions. In July 2008 Soto died in a confrontation with police. Several eye-witnesses to the murder he had committed were killed before testifying and others after their testimony.

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