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Colombia12 August 2002

13 August 2002 : Third anniversary of the death of Jaime Garzón

At the suggestion of Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network, a radio spot condemning impunity will be broadcast by five of the most important radio stations in Colombia (Radio Caracol, Radio Super, Radionet, RCN Radio and Todelar) to mark the third anniversary of the death of journalist and humorist Jaime Garzón.

image 180 x 217 (JPEG) Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network believe that this initiative, coinciding with the recent start of the trial of the presumed killers, will help keep Colombian society focused on the follow-up to this murder, which prompted an unprecedented mobilisation in Colombia in August 1999. Several hundred thousands Colombians took to the streets to pay final homage to Garzón when he was buried. Meanwhile, the two organisations have registered as co-plaintiffs in the case.

By carrying this spot, the five Colombian radio stations for their part wanted to join their voices to all those demanding justice for Jaime Garzón. It also provides an opportunity for them to show the solidarity of the press in the face of the attacks targeted against it.

Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network hope that the continuing mobilisation around the Jaime Garzón case will set an important precedent in the struggle against the impunity which the killers of journalists too often enjoy in Colombia. There have been some 40 killings of journalists in the past 10 years in Colombia, of which almost all remain unpunished.

"Only by continuing to pay attention to this case, will Colombian society and the news media be able to break the vicious circle of impunity gripping press freedom in Colombia", said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard.

The spot’s text

The 40-second spot which the Colombian radio stations will broadcast insists on the importance of press freedom for Colombian society and on the need to combat impunity:

"13 August 1999 - 13 August 2002. Three years ago, journalist and humorist Jaime Garzón was gunned down in Bogota. The victim that day was someone who knew how to make us laugh at the same time as informing us. Since then, more than 10 journalists have been killed for wanting, like him, to denounce those who violate our rights. Each murder is a blow to our freedoms. To accept that Jaime Garzón’s killer’s remain unpunished is to accept that they do it again and again. Together with Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network, let’s continue demanding justice. Justice for Jaime Garzón."

Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network already co-plaintiffs

Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network registered as co-plaintiffs when the trial of the journalist’s presumed killers opened, at the start of July 2002. The two organisations are represented by lawyer Alirio Uribe of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective. The presiding judge is Julio Roberto Ballesta Silva of Bogota’s seventh criminal court.

The two organisations 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 sent on 11 July to the trial judge, Julio Ballesta Silva.

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.



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