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Panamanian asylum for former Colombian intelligence chief an "insult to DASgate victims," says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - 22 November 2010 - Reporters Without Borders is outraged to learn that Panama has offered political asylum to María del Pilar Hurtado, a former head of Colombia's leading intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS). Hurtado is due to go to the Panamanian consulate in Bogotá today to receive documents allowing her to travel to Panama.

Panama's decision is an insult to all the victims of the DAS's dirty tricks - illegal phone tapping, smear campaigns and acts of sabotage - committed during Alvaro Uribe's two presidential terms. As well as journalists critical of President Uribe's "democratic security" policy, the victims included human rights activists, trade unionists, judges and politicians.

The head of the intelligence agency from August 2007 to October 2008, Hurtado is one of the three former DAS chiefs among a total of 10 senior Uribe administration officials who have been subject to disciplinary sanctions since 1 October. The sanctions are only related to the phone-tapping allegations. Reporters Without Borders is still waiting for the report to lead to further investigations and criminal prosecutions for all of the different kinds of dirty tricks. A formal request for prosecutions was filed on 6 October by Radio Nizkor journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, one of the so-called DASgate's victims.

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, a close ally of Uribe, gave "regional stability" as grounds for offering Hurtado asylum. Does political neighbourliness justify violating basic legal principles and endorsing impunity? Hurtado is not a victim of political persecution. She is a government official who exceeded her authority. Is a person who defended the mechanisms of state security now saying she does not feel protected by them?

The Organization of American States must demand an explanation from both governments and prevent a bad precedent being set, especially as asylum requests have reportedly been submitted by other former officials involved in the DASgate scandal.

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