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Former security operatives charged in journalist's torture in Colombia

Seven former members of the former secret service in Colombia, the Administrative Department for Security (DAS), face charges of 'psychological torture and intimidation' inflicted on prominent journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, the office of the national human rights prosecutor announced on 10 March.

They include a former deputy director general of the service, three former heads of intelligence, a former head of counterintelligence, a former chief of operations and a former chief of the technological intelligence. Five are currently in detention while two are fugitives.

“We welcome the prosecutor's action which is long overdue,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha.

“This is an opportunity to ensure accountability for those who broke the law and caused terrible hardship to our colleague. However, we must also unravel the entire chain and identify who ordered these unlawful activities.”

The prosecutor has ordered the arrest of the men, accusing them of subjecting the journalist and her family to years of harassment, including illegal surveillance, communications interception and threats. In charging them, he stressed that the “systematic abuse was designed to morally and psychologically undermine a human rights defender and a journalist who was critical of the former government.”

The IFJ has learned that it is the first time a charge of 'psychological torture', which carries a 20 year jail term, is brought against a defendant in Colombia.

Claudia Julieta Duque has long campaigned against the practice of psychological torture within the secret service in Colombia and spoke of her relief at the announcement of the charge. “This is the culmination of years of campaigning not only by me but by human rights activists all over the world, including the IFJ,” she said. The Federation, through its International Safety Fund, supported her participation in the court proceedings which concluded in the charges announced last week.

The journalist, who was made an honorary member of the National Union of Journalists in England and Ireland (NUJ) - IFJ affiliate, recounted her ordeal between 2001-2008, after she had exposed irregularities in the investigation into the murder of journalist Jaime Garzon.

During this period of time, she was subjected to threatening phone calls, including a threat to kill her daughter. “Your daughter is going to suffer, we will burn her alive, we will spread her fingers throughout the house,” one caller said.

Claudia was kidnapped in 2011 and escaped another kidnap in 2004. In 2009, she uncovered a guide reportedly produced by the DAS, giving graphic details on how to intimidate her, which included tips on making threats to kill her and rape her daughter.

The IFJ shares her hope that the prosecution of former DAS members will lead to justice for other journalists who were victims of similar systematic abuses in Colombia and abroad.

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Claudia for her dogged determination to report independently in the face of a ruthless campaign to silence her,” added Beth Costa, IFJ General Secretary. “The infamous DSA was active in many countries in the region and beyond, hunting any journalist who crossed them. Today, the victims can finally put behind them such horrific experiences.”

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