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Congress to question former president about illegal phone-tapping

(RSF/IFEX) - An investigation into illegal telephone-tapping by the Colombian intelligence agency known as the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) entered a new phase on 12 October 2010 when the House of Representatives initiated a procedure that could result in former President Alvaro Uribe being questioned about his presumed involvement.

Uribe originally denied any role in the misuse of the intelligence services in order to combat criticism of his so-called "democratic security" policies during his two terms. The phone-tapping and other dirty tricks by the DAS were the subject of a Reporters Without Borders (RSF) country visit and report in May 2010. According to documents viewed by RSF, a total of 16 journalists from ten news media outlets were among the targets.

RSF takes note of this initiative by the House of Representatives, of which the potential judicial consequences appear to be limited, and also notes the latest advances in the investigation but believes them to be insufficient.

The "DASgate" scandal was not limited to illegal phone tapping. It included the infiltration of the state intelligence services by paramilitary groups. The spying on politicians, judges, trade unionists, human rights activists and journalists was accompanied by acts of intimidation, sabotage, censorship and misuse of the protective measures given to those who had been threatened.

The targets included Radio Nizkor journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, who was constantly followed and was the victim of a strange car "accident" in 2008, and Hollman Morris, the producer of "Contravía", one of the few current affairs programmes to tackle sensitive issues such as the civil war, indigenous land disputes and human rights, broadcast by Canal Uno.

The targets also included Canal Uno journalists Ignacio Gómez and Daniel Coronell. A highly suspect break-in and computer robbery - the fifth in three years - recently occurred at Gómez's home. And, while he was president, Uribe publicly criticised and smeared Coronell, exposing him to danger.

All these and other journalists suffered the effects of the "black propaganda" orchestrated by the intelligence services with the presidential palace's direct approval. Some of these journalists have had to go into exile to escape the threats. Morris is currently residing in the United States, attending an academic programme.

These serious abuses were not among the grounds for the disciplinary measures taken on 1 October against nine senior officials, including three former DAS chiefs - Jorge Noguera Cotes, Andrés Peñate Giraldo and María del Pilar Hurtado -, and former presidential chief of staff Bernardo Moreno, who has been banned from holding public office for 18 years for illegal phone-tapping.

The case brought by the Attorney General's Office did not mention the journalists and other known DAS victims and did not include the statements they have made. This omission was the subject of an appeal that Duque's lawyer filed with the directorate for special investigations of Attorney General's Office on 6 October. RSF, which has been given a copy, calls on the Attorney General's Office to study the appeal carefully and to order an additional investigation.

The activities carried out by DAS officials, including those at the highest level, require criminal prosecutions as well as administrative sanctions. RSF undertakes to support any attempts by the journalists concerned to obtain reparation and hopes former president Uribe's testimony to parliament will at the very least help to establish the facts. The Colombian public has a right to know the whole truth.

Click here to access the report from RSF's May 2010 visit to Colombia

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