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Colombian journalist critical of Supreme Court faces defamation suit

(FLIP/IFEX) - On 23 August 2012, the Supreme Court of Justice's criminal chamber announced that a criminal defamation sit will be initiated against Cecilia Orozco for an opinion column she wrote in El Espectador newspaper in which she questioned some of the chamber's decisions. Additionally, the announcement characterised some of the opinions about the chamber that have been expressed by journalist María Jimena Duzán in Semana magazine as "biased".

Orozco and Duzán have written opinion columns about decisions issued by the court's criminal bench in 2012 regarding extraditions and members of Congress, as well as reassignments of certain functions within the court.

The issues dealt with by the Supreme Court are of interest to the public, and the Colombian justice system stipulates that international freedom of expression standards will be upheld. As such, it is disconcerting that the magistrates of this court would restrict freedom of expression.

FLIP points out that in a democratic society, public officials, including Supreme Court judges, are subject to a higher level of public scrutiny.

FLIP has documented several cases in Colombia in which politicians, military personnel, judges, businessmen and other individuals whose actions affect society in general have filed defamation complaints against journalists when they feel they have been negatively affected by publications that fall within the scope of freedom of expression. In May 2012, an appeal was filed with the Supreme Court's criminal chamber in the case of journalist Luis Agustín González, who was given a prison sentence after being charged with defamation. The Supreme Court has not ruled on the admissibility of the appeal.

The criminal chamber's announcement regarding the lawsuit against Orozco creates an automatic bias on the part of the public prosecutor and judge who will hear the case against the journalist, since it was initiated by the high judicial authority in the country.

FLIP respectfully calls on the Supreme Court of Justice's criminal chamber to reconsider its position, and, in order to ensure the free flow of ideas and opinions, invites the members of the chamber to participate in a public debate regarding their disagreement with the opinions expressed by Duzán and Orozco.

(Please note this is an abridged translation.)

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