Sunday, December 29, 2013

Colombia: Former Congressman Ferney Tapasco May Go Free Before AG Can Present New Evidence

According to The Latin American Tribune, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office said Thursday (December 26) that it will appeal a judge’s decision to acquit former congressman Ferney Tapasco of the 2002 murder of a prominent journalist.

A court in Pereira, capital of the central province of Risaralda, said prosecutors did not present evidence definitively linking Tapasco to the slaying of Orlando Sierra Hernandez, deputy editor of the Manizales daily, La Patria.

The acquittal will be appealed to the Pereira Superior Court, according to the Attorney General's office, insisting that it has sufficient documentary evidence and testimony illustrating Tapasco’s role in the murder.

COMMENT: Two gunmen confronted Sierra on January 30, 2002, as he was leaving the offices of La Patria with his young daughter at which point they shot and killed Hernandez several times in front of his daughter.

Tapasco, behind bars since 2010, was expected to be released from Bogota’s La Picota Prison sometime on Thursday (January 2, 2014).

Obviously, if Tapasco is released on January 2 as expected, he might well disappear before the Attorney General’s office can present its evidence against Tapasco.

Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco and Francisco Antonio Quintero have each been sentenced to 28 years in prison for their part in the assassination.

According to Freedom House, death threats, assassinations, kidnappings and physical attacks against journalists remain a serious concern in Colombia. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported 92 threats against journalists as of early December 2012, the same number as in 2011.

There were two kidnappings of journalists in 2012. In April, Romeo Langlois of France 24 television was kidnapped by the rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during a battle between the guerrillas and government troops. The FARC held Langlois for more than a month, claiming he was a prisoner of war, before releasing him on May 30. 

In July, a reporter for the radio station Sarare Estéreo was kidnapped and held for three weeks by the National Liberation Army (ELN), another rebel group, and the station was hit by a grenade attack in early August.

Freelance journalist Guillermo Quiroz Delgado died in November from injuries he suffered at the hands of the police. He was covering a protest in the department [state] of Sucre when he was detained and allegedly beaten and thrown off the back of a police truck. Quiroz had previously angered local officials with his reports on police brutality and corruption in local government. Three police officers were suspended pending an investigation. 

In March, Argemiro Cárdenas Agudelo, a radio journalist and former politician, was shot dead in the western department of Risaralda, although the motive remains unclear. 

In May, Fernando Londoño, a radio talk-show host, newspaper columnist, and former interior minister, was injured in a bombing in Bogotá that was believed to have been carried out by the FARC.

Media ownership is highly concentrated among a few groups of private investors, and television is the dominant news medium. Independent and privately owned print and broadcast media are generally free to express a variety of opinions and cover sensitive issues without official restrictions. All print media in Colombia are privately owned. The government operates three public television stations, but the two private free-to-air networks dominate the ratings.

The pattern in radio is similar, with the two public national radio stations attracting a small audience share. There are hundreds of community radio stations, which sometimes face pressure from the government and armed groups. Local media depend heavily on advertising by regional and municipal government agencies to stay in business, encouraging collusion among media owners, journalists, and officials. 

A 2012 bill mandating a 30% reduction in official advertising, intended to combat corruption, could affect the economic viability of some local media outlets.