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Colombia11 December 2002

Judicial proceedings against journalist Jaime Garzón’s alleged killers

(JPEG) A further hearing in the case against the alleged killers of journalist and humorist Jaime Garzón (photo) is due to be held on 11-12 December. At the same time, a letter requesting a new investigation into Garzón’s murder has been sent to Colombia’s attorney general by Reporters Without Borders, the Damocles Network (the legal arm of Reporters Without Borders), the Press and Society Institute (IPYS - a Lima-based organisation that defends press freedom in Latin America) and the Press Freedom Foundation (a Colombian organisation defending press freedom).

These four organisations said a new investigation was needed because "the investigators have not duly explored certain leads that could shed light on Jaime Garzón’s murder." They also said that a new investigating judge should be put in charge of this new investigation "in view of the doubts raised about the thoroughness of the first one’s work."

A second letter has been sent to the president of the Bogota higher judicial tribunal, which is at the level above the court presided by Judge Julio Roberto Ballén Silva, currently handling the hearings in this case. In this letter, the four organisations have appealed against Judge Ballén’s decision not to annul the current proceedings: "The judge’s position is absurd. On the one hand, he recognises that the investigation is incomplete and must be reopened. On the other hand, he does not take this decision although he has the power to do so." They have therefore asked the higher tribunal’s president to order that the current proceedings be annulled and that a new investigation be opened.

Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network were meanwhile accepted as civil plaintiffs in this case by Judge Ballén on 9 December.

Failure to pursue all the leads

During the 8 November hearing, Judge Ballén concluded that the prosecutor’s office did not duly investigate certain leads likely to shed light on Garzón’s murder and, for this reason, he asked the attorney general to open a new investigation into the murder. The judge thereby accepted the claims of both the defence and the victim’s family, who have been denouncing the omissions in the investigation for several months. However, he did not take the decision to annul the proceedings and order a new investigation himself, although he has the power and all the attorneys involved have asked him to do so. The attorneys have appealed the judge’s decision before the Bogota higher judicial tribunal.

Reports published in the Colombian press have mentioned testimonies implicating military officers that were ignored by the investigators. According to these reports, certain sectors of the army reached an agreement with Carlos Castaño of the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) for Garzón to be eliminated, and that the killing was carried out by La Terraza, a Medellin-based gang of hit-men.

An independent enquiry by Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network, published on 24 October, established that the investigators were the victims of manipulation by the Administrative Department for Security (DAS), an intelligence service under the president’s authority. The enquiry showed that four prosecution testimonies provided to the investigators by the DAS were false.

The most important of these prosecution witnesses, Maria Amparo Arroyave, has disappeared since the defence and the Garzón family’s attorney pointed out the contradictions in her testimony. Another of the witnesses, Wilson Llano, is a DAS informer currently detained on charges of extortion. A third, Wilson Raúl Ramírez, has retracted his statement, claiming that he and Maribel Pérez, the fourth of these prosecution witnesses, were pressured into providing false testimony.

The main stages in the case

Garzón was murdered on 13 August 1999 in Bogota. The investigation was closed on 2 January this year. The investigating judge in charge of the case, Eduardo Meza, concluded that the murder was ordered by Castaño, the head of the AUC, that Juan Pablo Ortiz fired the shots and that Edilberto Antonio Sierra drove their motorcycle. Ortiz was arrested in January 2000 and Sierra were arrested in September 2001. A warrant for Castaño’s arrest was issued in June 2000.

The motive was said to be Garzón’s participation in negotiations for the release of persons kidnapped by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Castaño is alleged to have seen this as playing into the hands of the guerrillas. He is also supposed to have thought that Garzón received money in exchange for these services.

After the investigation was concluded, the case was sent to the judge of the seventh special court of Bogota. This judge however ruled on 16 September that the case did not fall within his competence on the grounds that the murder was not an act of terrorism and the motive had nothing to do with the fact that Garzón was a journalist. He therefore sent the case to an ordinary court, which in turn declared itself incompetent on the grounds that, it its view, it was indeed an act of terrorism. On 23 October, the supreme court ruled that the case should be handled by a special court.

As a result, two hearings were held on 8 and 20 November before the seventh special court of Bogota, presided by Judge Ballén

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