Judge prohibits Colombian journalist from issuing opinions during judicial proceedings for her psychological torture

A Colombian judge prohibited journalist Claudia Julieta Duque from issuing opinions and photographs in the context of a proceeding against Emiro Rojas Granados, former deputy director of the country’s now extinct intelligence department, accused of psychological torture against Duque.

The decision of the Second Specialized Criminal Judge of Bogota was announced on July 25 and limits Duque's expressions, which must be “truthful, impartial and concrete, but without misrepresentations or opinions,” according to the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP, for its acronym in Spanish).

Claudia Julieta Duque. (Twitter).

Claudia Julieta Duque. (Twitter).

According to FLIP, the judge's decision also restricts "the issuance of opinions that call into question the defendants, witnesses and the court itself." She also prohibited her from publishing photographs of any part of this proceeding.

During the hearing, among the reasons that the journalist expressed her disagreement with the decision was that, according to her, the judge decontextualized some of the opinions expressed by Duque.

“I must state that your decision finally meets the objectives set by the DAS with censorship, torture, denunciation for injuria and calumnia, threats, exiles and harassment and is to silence me, shut me up," Duque said during the hearing, according to a recording provided to the Knight Center. “Then, Madam Judge, once and for respect, I tell you that if you keep your decision today, I will ask for permission to remove myself and I will also go into contempt for it because it is completely illegitimate that you exceed your position as judge to censor the opinion of a victim.”

Later, in public statements, the journalist described this decision as a "clear prior censorship regarding [her] opinions." “For the judge it is disrespectful for me to say that this trial is delayed, that in her office three of the four detainees have been released due to expiration of terms. It is an assessment that bothers her and therefore she thinks I should shut up,” Duque added.

Regarding the prohibition of photographs, she considered that it was “absurd” since the defendants were public officials who, as part of their roles as officials, even offered press conferences at the time.

Duque said she would explore various legal recourses “to assert [her] right to freedom of expression and opinion as both a victim and journalist.”

The judge’s recent decision comes after the defense of Rojas Granados, the former official in this proceeding, asked the court on July 3 to prohibit Duque from publicly commenting on the case or reporting on it, as El Espectador published at the time.

According to the newspaper, the defense argued that Duque allegedly “violated the rules of the proceeding” and this was allegedly based, among other facts, on an interview that Duque gave to El Espectador in January 2019, and on a photograph that she posted on her Twitter account.

At the time, the FLIP rejected the defense’s petition. “The trial that goes ahead against Emiro Rojas for the psychological torture against @JulieDuque1 is of high public interest. It is judging a serious human rights violation,” the organization wrote on its Twitter account. “If the judiciary agrees to Roja’s request, the freedom of expression of the journalist as a victim and the right of society to receive information and opinion is affected.”

Along the same lines, the Executive Director for the Americas of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, said that accepting the defense’s petition “would be an absurd and inadmissible restriction on freedom of expression.”

For FLIP, the judge’s recent decision and the restrictions imposed on Duque “are contrary to freedom of expression, protected by Article 20 of the Constitution [of Colombia] and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The Judge’s order is a form of prior censorship, prohibited by Article 13 of the American Convention.”

“Limitations such as the one determined by the Judge can only occur in the most extreme cases, in which it is proven that damage would be caused beyond the interest that exists so that society knows what happens during the course of said trial,” the FLIP added. “In this case, the opinions and information that Claudia Julieta Duque could give about this proceeding are of high public interest, since the crime under investigation is a serious violation of human rights and has been declared a crime against humanity by the public prosecutor.”

At least eight former officials of the now extinct Administrative Department of Security (DAS), the country's intelligence entity, are on trial for threats, psychological torture and persecution of Duque.

In 2001 Duque was abducted and threatened, and subsequently psychologically tortured due to her journalistic work, especially her investigation of the murder of fellow journalist and humorist Jaime Garzón, which happened in 1999. In her journalistic investigations, Duque linked former DAS officials in the planning and execution of Garzón’s murder. Indeed, in 2018, a former deputy director of the DAS was sentenced to 30 years in prison in the case.

In 2003 and 2004, the journalist made the complaints, but it was only until 2013 when the public prosecutor sent some former DAS officials to jail as they were accused of aggravated psychological torture.

The crime against Duque was classified as a crime against humanity by the Attorney General of Colombia in 2017. In October 2018, the journalist presented her case against the Colombian State before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Knight Center was unable to find contact information for the Second Specialized Criminal Judge of Bogota to ask for comment on the case.