Colombia Online

Investigative Journalist Fired

July 1: Fabio Castillo, a veteran Colombian journalist, was fired from the second largest print media in Colombia, “El Espectador”, after carrying out a journalistic investigation regarding corruption that implicated the Internal Affairs and Justice Minister, who was targeted as a suspect in an espionage scandal.

The history of the case stretches back to May, when he announced publicly that the investigation, which pertained to Fernando Londoño Hoyos, current Minister of Internal Affairs, had been suspected of espionage before his article was published. The investigation revealed alleged irregularities in the ‘Banco del Pacífico’ during the period in which the current Colombian Minister for Internal Affairs and Justice was part of the Board of Directors of the aforementioned bank.

Fernando Londoño Hoyos, Minister for Internal Affairs and Justice, accepted the fact that he had received an anonymous letter with a copy of the journalistic material, days before the publication of the investigation.

Until this point in time, Castillo has not been threatened. “They already got what they wanted: to shut me up”.

The director of “El Espectador” stated that the reasons behind the firing of Castillo’s are purely financial. This publication has found itself in an economical crisis for several years now, and in fact had to move from being a daily to a weekly. Castillo was fired along with four other journalists in the same week.

Search for Local Mayor for Assassination of Journalist

July 16: The General Office of the National Public Prosecutor, responsible for the criminal investigation, connected the mayor of Barrancabermeja, (an oil-producing city in the northeast of Colombia), to the case for the assassination of journalist, José Emeterio Rivas, who died on 6 April.

The Public Prosecutor issued a restraining order without possibility of bail against Julio Ardila, mayor of Barrancabermeja, as well as against three other civil servants from the same municipality. The civil servants had already been captured by the authorities while Ardila remained a fugitive.

Previously, the Public Prosecutor had tied this crime to three members of the “Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia” (AUC) as alleged perpetrators of the Rivas homicide.

Rivas directed the radio program, “Las fuerzas vivas”, through which he often delivered reports denouncing public corruption and alleged ties between the municipality and the AUC. Days before his murder, Rivas had reported a live attack against him which was attributed to Julio César Ardila Torres, Mayor of Barrancabermeja. Since 1999, Rivas had reported threats on his life and since 2001 he had been taken in as part of the “Program for the Protection of Journalists” of the Colombian Ministry for Internal Affairs.

End of Pension Benefits for Journalists

July 24: The current government of Colombia thinks that journalism is not a high-risk profession, and to this extent suppressed the possibility of journalists to be protected by a pension scheme.

In accordance with the decree-law 1281 of 94, until the 24 of July 2003, journalists were protected by a pension scheme anticipated until 50 years of age, under the consideration that the journalistic profession is a high-risk one. The Colombian government, by way of its Ministry for Labour and Social Protection, revoked this scheme resorting to extraordinary powers of the Pension Law, even though Colombia stands as the country with the most assassinations of journalists for professional reasons in the world, outside of combat zones.

According to official sources, the rights covered by said scheme will be upheld for journalists who, by the 24 of July 2003, had quoted a minimum of 500 weeks. These communicators will be eligible to receive pension benefits when they complete the necessary weeks and when they are a minimum 50 years of age.

Columnist Called to Court for Insult and Defamation

July 26: Journalist and columnist Roberto Posada was called before a court of the General Office of the National Public Prosecutor, in spite of the fact that Posada rectified the criticisms that he made in hit column against Pedro Juan Moreno, a person closely tied to the President, Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Posada, better known by his pseudonym D’Artagnan, wrote several articles in which he affirmed that Moreno had ties with the paramilitaries and which classified him as “dangerous” and “terrifying”. As a result, Moreno brought a claim before the Public Prosecutor for insult and defamation. On his part, Posada issued a public apology. Nonetheless, Moreno asked the Public Prosecutor to discount the apology based on the fact that Posada hadn’t asked to be excused for his comments of “dangerous” and “terrifying”.

The Colombian Penal Code carries a prison sentence of one to three years and a fine of ten to a thousand times the minimum legal monthly salary for insult and imprisonment of one to four years and a fine of ten to a thousand times the minimum legal monthly salary for defamation.

Journalists of varying political standpoints have expressed their concern after the General Office of the National Public Prosecutor discounted the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, which states that rectification should be enough in cases where an opinion violates the rights of other people.

In addition, some people have insinuated that the Public Prosecutor’s Office is making Posada pay due to the fact that he has bee criticizing the current administration of the Public Prosecutor.

Moreno’s lawsuits have not only been brought against Posada. He has also tried without success to sue the magazine, “Cambio”, as well as making repeated criticisms of journalists and the media.

In conjunction with these proceedings, the journalist and columnist, Maria Jimena Duzán, wrote, “One cannot confuse the great support, which surrounds our President with the necessity that our broken democracy has to keep the valves of criticism open”.

Justice Reform Could Go Against Freedom of Expression

July 31: The Constitutional Court expressed its disaccord with the judicial reform project, for which guardianship would be excluded as a mechanism for protecting rights such as the access to public documents, protection of journalistic sources, as well as the guarantee of free and independent working conditions.

The judicial reform project is an initiative of the current government, headed by Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

In addition to this project, there are other legislative initiatives that threaten the freedom of the press, such as the Journalism Law, which has not been sanctioned by the President, and which creates a semi-official body responsible for deciding who can work in a journalistic capacity; as well as another legal project which is going to be re-presented before Congress and that looks to imprison media directors when they are found to violate the “dignity of the family”.