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IFEX calls for justice for Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya after recent mishandling of case

Jineth Bedoya taking notes under the watch of an armed bodyguard in December of 2000.
Jineth Bedoya taking notes under the watch of an armed bodyguard in December of 2000.

Arianna Cubillos/Associated Press

TO:
Eduardo Montealegre Lynett, Attorney General
Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia

CC:
The Foundation for Press Freedom
Jineth Bedoya Lima

Dear Dr. Montealegre,

IFEX, the global network of 95 organisations dedicated to promoting and defending freedom of expression, is writing to you to express concern over the decisions made by the Attorney General's office in the case of the abduction, torture and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima.

While it is a positive decision to re-arrest Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco for the horrific crimes committed against the journalist on 25 May 2000, the confusion that surrounded Jineth's case in recent days is indicative of the need to ensure that such crimes are prosecuted in a timely manner if there is to be progress in preventing attacks against the press in Colombia.

Jineth Bedoya is a renowned Colombian journalist who, at the time of her attack, was investigating a story on violent incidents involving state officials and paramilitary groups in a maximum-security prison for the newspaper El Espectador. Jineth was abducted from the prison by a group of three assailants, drugged and driven to a remote location where she was beaten and repeatedly raped before being left at a roadside garbage dump.

In August of 2011, Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco, a former paramilitary fighter, confessed to committing the crimes against Jineth Bedoya in retaliation for her journalistic work. The confession was provided in return for a reduced sentence under the “Justice and Peace” judicial programme to encourage reconciliation.

Although Cárdenas had reportedly requested Jineth's forgiveness and Jineth had positively identified Cárdenas as one of her attackers, in August of 2013, Cárdenas retracted his testimony. After previously indicating that Cárdenas' confession was a positive step towards justice, your office's decision to end the investigation on 1 June 2015 was an unexpected and stunning setback.

To some extent, it is a relief to learn that after reviewing the case, your office has reversed this decision and once again placed Cárdenas in custody. We also welcome your statement giving “…full credence to the testimony of Jineth Bedoya,” and the reaffirmation of your “…institutional commitment to combat sexual violence and perform all actions to avoid impunity in these cases."

This is an important step in the fight against impunity, as the consequences of allowing Jineth's case to stall without justice would only serve to perpetuate the cycle of violence against the media in Colombia.

However, the apparent lack of coordination witnessed within the Attorney General's office has exposed Jineth Bedoya to re-victimization, and much additional work remains to ensure that the other perpetrators are brought to justice. As Colombian member of IFEX, The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) has said, this decision should be viewed only as “…the beginning of the path to end 15 years of impunity.”

As such, IFEX urges the Judicial Branch of the Republic of Colombia as well the Office of the Presidency to live up to its stated commitments to ensure that justice is fully served and to foster an atmosphere of safety for journalists and media workers. We call on these parties to:

  • Expedite proceedings against Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco and continue to pursue the other perpetrators of the attack against Jineth Bedoya that took place on 25 May 2000, taking into consideration the fact that her case has been recognised as a crime against humanity;
  • Adhere to all requests made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for information to assist them in their regional investigation of the case of Jineth Bedoya, referred to them by IFEX member the Foundation for Press Freedom on 3 June 2011;
  • Ensure that the Justice and Peace program, along with other offers of amnesty under Colombia’s reconciliation process do not extend to those who have committed grave violations against journalists and media workers;
  • Guarantee the safety and security of Jineth Bedoya, witnesses, family members, other participants and anyone else who may be affected by this legal case.

Signed,

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