Court sentences former intelligence official in case of torture against Colombian journalist Claudia Duque

The Superior Court of the Judicial District of Bogotá sentenced Ronal Harbey Rivera Rodríguez, former official of the defunct Colombian intelligence department, to more than 12 years in prison (150 months) for the crime of aggravated torture against journalist Claudia Julieta Duque. Although the arrest warrant was issued secretly, since Rivera Rodríguez was an active migration official in Colombia, he fled from authorities.

The Nov. 20 ruling from the Superior Court revoked the decision in the first instance of the 10th Specialized Criminal Court of Bogotá that had acquitted Rivera Rodríguez on May 30, 2023 upon “not finding sufficient evidence” to show his participation.

“For me, in addition to justice, this is a poem. The ruling is beautiful, it restores dignity, it puts things in order. It's an enormous reparation!" Duque told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR). The journalist had to wait more than six years after the end of the trial against Rivera Rodríguez for the sentence.

Duque was a victim of aggravated psychological torture from 2001 to 2004 due to her journalistic investigations into the murder of fellow journalist Jaime Garzón that revealed the participation of officials from the defunct Administrative Department of Security (DAS, by its Spanish acronym) in the crime. In the course of all these years, the journalist has also been a victim of threats, harassment and monitoring because of her search for justice.

Mujer de pie apoyando su cuerpo sobre un muro sonriendo a la cámara

Colombian journalist Claudia Julieta Duque. (Photo: Courtesy FLIP)

The recent decision of the Superior Court recognizes “the nature of the continued torture as a crime against humanity” of Duque “by various state agents” of the DAS from 2001 to 2004.

“There is no doubt that the vile torture to which Claudia Julieta was subjected was not a case of common crime, but that she was presented as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population and with knowledge of said attack. That is to say, it was a typical crime against humanity; of a crime that, due to the pain caused to the victim, the baseness of its perpetrators and the cruel cruelty of the State against a defenseless woman and her little daughter, offends and shames all of humanity," the sentence established.

“This is a huge victory. He is the material torturer,” Duque added. “The acquittal was a low blow six years after the trial ended.”

Rivera Rodríguez was linked to the investigation for aggravated torture against Duque in 2013. In November 2014 he was captured and called to trial in 2015. From that moment, he was in prison until a court released him in July 2018 due to the expiration of his sentence. terms. According to Cuestión Pública, although the final arguments for sentencing have been held since the end of 2017, the case was paralyzed until 2023 when a judge acquitted him. This decision was reversed with the recent ruling.

The Superior Court also sentenced Rivera Rodríguez to pay Duque compensation for “moral damages.” In addition, it ordered the President of the Republic to offer a public apology to the journalist in a solemn ceremony “as a measure to restore the law.”

The Superior Court ruling makes a strong statement on the decision in the first instance and highlights its conclusion as being “clearly incompatible with the summary and the evidence presented at trial.”

“Furthermore, the argumentative construction of the first instance is incredibly naive if it is contrasted with the entire evidentiary panorama: according to that office, since threatening calls were not allowed in the DAS offices, but rather telephone interceptions, then it is not possible that their members have incurred such criminal acts against Claudia Julieta,” the ruling states.

The decision is one of the few victories achieved by Duque for the crimes against her. Despite the fact that the Colombian Attorney General's Office recognized her case as a crime against humanity in 2017 and that the Council of State condemned Colombia for the violation of Duque's human rights, the material and intellectual authors generally remain unpunished.

​​Only Enrique Alberto Ariza Rivas, who served as intelligence director of the DAS when the acts were committed, is in prison. At one point, there were 11 people prosecuted, of whom three accepted charges and were convicted. These people are already free since they served their sentences.

Of the other eight defendants, seven were released due to the expiration of their terms, while Rivera Rodríguez had been acquitted last May.

Precisely for this reason, the case of Claudia Julieta Duque was highlighted by the LJR team in its special on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, commemorated annually on Nov. 2.

The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, for its acronym in Spanish), a Colombian organization that has accompanied Duque in her legal case, told LJR at the time that it was concerned about Rivera Rodríguez's acquittal and that it hoped the decision would be overturned.

“This ruling represents a significant step to overcoming impunity in the case of Claudia Julieta, and is consolidated as a precedent for attacks on journalists that involve state monitoring and surveillance activities, most of which do not even reach a stage of trial,” FLIP said after the most recent ruling.

FLIP also called on the Attorney General's Office and the National Police to "strengthen investigative activities and coordinate efforts to find the whereabouts of the convicted person and to capture him."

Translated by Teresa Mioli
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