Reporters Without Borders and its judicial arm, the Damocles Network, announced today that they would officially be part of the team prosecuting two men accused of the 1999 murder of journalist and satirist Jaime Garzón.
The two organisations, which will be represented by Alirio Uribe, of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, moved to intervene out of concern at the way the investigation was going, with evidence about army involvement being rather quickly brushed aside.
"We hope the evidence investigators did not look at during the enquiry will be considered at the trial," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard and Damocles Network vice-president Jean-Pierre Getti in a letter to the trial judge, Julio Ballesta Silva.
This initiative, the first by Reporters Without Borders in Latin America, also aims to keep attention in Colombia focused on the aftermath of a murder that unleashed an unprecedented wave of emotion in the country, with several hundred thousand people attending Garzón’s funeral to pay their respects.
By their action, the two organisations hope to set an important precedent in the fight against the impunity enjoyed by too many of the killers of journalists in Colombia. About 40 journalists have been murdered there over the last decade and virtually all their killers remain unpunished.
Colombia is on a blacklist of 21 countries where murderers, torturers and kidnappers of journalists act with complete impunity. The list was released on 1 July by Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network.
The Garzón murder
Garzón, a journalist and satirist with the radio station Radionet and with Caracol Television, was gunned down in Bogota on 13 August 1999 by two men on a motorcycle. The investigating judge, Eduardo Meza, officially closed the preliminary enquiry on 2 January this year.
He said the killing had been ordered by Carlos Castaño, head of the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), and carried out by Juan Pablo Ortiz Agudelo ("El Bochas"), the gunman, and Edilberto Antonio Sierra Ayala ("Toño"), the driver of the motorcycle. The two killers were arrested in January 2000 and September 2001 respectively. A warrant for Castaño’s arrest was issued in June 2000.
The motive for the murder is thought to have been Garzón’s involvement in negotiations to win the release of people kidnapped by guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The AUC chief is thought to have accused the journalist of playing into the hands of the FARC and also of getting paid for his services.
Some press reports said evidence that suggested the country’s army was mixed up in the killing was dismissed by the investigators. These reports said sections of the army feared Garzón might reveal they were involved in arms and kidnapping rackets with the FARC. The investigators replied that such evidence was unconfirmed.
After the enquiry officially ended, the case was handed to the seventh division criminal court in Bogota. Since 1 July, the parties to the case - the lawyers for the Garzón family and his woman companion, those of the accused and the public prosecutor - have had 10 days to tell the judge of evidence they want to be considered during the trial, which could then begin and last a maximum one year.