Attorney General of Colombia calls former intelligence agents for questioning in case of psychological torture of journalist

Four former officials of the now defunct Department of Administrative Security (DAS) in Colombia were called for questioning by the Attorney General’s Office as part of its investigation of the threats and psychological torture of journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, according to newspaper El Espectador. [Read a brief explanation of the scandal below]

Those called are former director of the DAS in the department of Antioquia, Emiro Rojas Granados; current director of Telematics of the Technical Investigations Unit of the Attorney General’s Office, William Alberto Merchán; former detective Juan Carlos Sastoque; and former agent Néstor Pachón Bermúdez, reported news site La FM.

According to El Espectador, they all could have known about the illegal actions that were carried out against Duque, which she denounced in 2004. However, the Attorney General will decide whether or not to formally link them to the investigation only after hearing from the four, Caracol Radio reported.

The case has to do with tracking and threatening calls that Duque received as retaliation for her journalistic investigation that linked DAS agents with the planning and execution of the murder of Colombian journalist and humorist Jaime Garzón.

According to the journalist, Merchán – who was part of the DAS and now works for another state agency – allegedly directed the actions against her and her family, which included phone calls at late hours to threaten them and detailed information about Duque’s daughter, Colombian agency Colprensa and El Espectador reported.

“A new phase for justice begins in my case. It has been very difficult to get here, especially because those linked today still hold positions of power from which they are camouflaged inside the State and maintain power relations that shield them against the action of justice,” Duque said according to Colprensa.

In Duque’s case, three convictions have been handed down against former agents of the DAS and trials are moving forward against other former members of the entity, including former assistant director of the DAS, José Miguel Narváez.

The DAS scandal

Following an investigation by magazine Semanathe scandal of “chuzadas of the DAS” (as the case of espionage and illegal wiretappings made by this unit is known) came to light.

The investigations indicated that during the administration of then president Álvaro Uribe, email and telephone lines were intercepted and illegal spying was conducted for the purpose, according to what some former officials have said, to establish the journalists' sources of information, or to intimidate them, like in Duque’s case.

However, journalists were not the only ones affected in this case. Judges and legislators in opposition to Uribe’s government also were targeted.

In March 2015, the Supreme Court of Colombia found María del Pilar Hurtado, the former director of the DAS, and Bernardo Moreno Villegas, former secretary general of the presidency of Uribe’s administration, guilty of having instructed these trackings.

The DAS, the country’s intelligence agency that reported directly to the President of the Republic, was dissolved in 2011 as a result of this scandal.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.