Claudia Julieta Duque is a journalist and human rights defender, accompanied by PBI since 2003. Over the years, we have accompanied Claudia Julieta as she has brought her search for justice before different entities and we have monitored her security situation, which is more alarming each day. Due to her investigations and publications on very delicate issues, in particular those related to the participation of the now-dismantled Department of Administrative Security (DAS) in the 1999 murder of political humorist Jaime Garzón. Since 2001, Claudia Julieta has been victim to a plan developed by the DAS, comprised of threats, harassment, persecution, and illegal interception.1 That is when Claudia began her long journey to find justice, which continues today.
“I have been waiting for a ruling for 18 years and there are victims who have been waiting for 25 or 30 years, and what they are telling them, with what is happening to me, is that they cannot speak or make denouncements.” Claudia Julieta Duque
In 2014, several ex-DAS employees were convicted for psychological torture. This was the first case of its kind in the world.2 The Prosecutor General’s Office categorized this offense as a crime against humanity in 2017.3 In spite of this, the case stalled. According to the journalist, since September 2018, when the case was taken on by the 2nd Specialized Criminal Judge of Bogotá, Nidia Angélica Carrero Torres, the case has been almost completely paralyzed. Nevertheless, there have been judicial orders that, for Claudia Julieta, are completely arbitrary and unjust. An example is the July 2019 ruling that prohibited Claudia Julieta from sharing an opinion on her case via media outlets and social media. This “prior censorship” order was adamantly rejected by the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), which classified the restriction as contrary to freedom of expression.4 Also, different journalists unions in Latin America and the Caribbean issued a press release to publicly criticize the order5 and the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, expressed support for the journalist.6 During an August 2019 interview,7 just after the order was issued, Claudia Julieta stated, “I have been waiting for a ruling for 18 years and there are victims who have been waiting for 25 or 30 years, and what they are telling them, with what is happening to me, is that they cannot speak or make denouncements.”
The case’s prolonged length and the minimal perspectives of any substantial change led Claudia Julieta to drop the criminal case at the end of November 2019. According to her, in the last two years, all of the decisions have been focused on closing the case and revictimizing her.8 According to Equipo Nizkor –an international organization that Claudia Julieta works for and its digital information project, Nizkor Radio, where she reports– for several years justice was key for her psychological and emotional recovery, but now it has become a scenario to revictimize the journalist, as she has been silenced, in addition to the delays and verbal and legal attacks. In general, in spite of some advances over time, the ordinary courts failed to fulfill their obligations to try the accused parties during a reasonable amount of time. Now they are all free.9
The most recent news regarding the criminal case was from 6 July of this year, when judge Nidia Angélica Carrero Torres, who is responsible for the case against José Miguel Narváez, ex-Deputy Director of the DAS, and William Alberto Merchán, ex-Counterintelligence detective from the same entity, (both accused of aggravated psychological torture) sent the case to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).10 This decision was based on requests from the ex-DAS employees to have their case tried before the JEP and because, according to the judge, the tasks carried out by the “G3” group of the former DAS to persecute journalists, the political opposition, social leaders, and human rights organizations is related to the armed conflict. As a result, the trial in the ordinary courts is suspended until the JEP decides if the case should be admitted in its jurisdiction or not. This action has been fully rejected by Equipo Nizkor11 and the journalist, who stated that considering these incidents to be a part of the Colombian internal armed conflict is a “legal aberration,” in addition to leaving the “victims with their hands tied,” since there isn’t the possibility to appeal.
As we have previously shown, [Claudia Julieta Duque: 2015 – 2016]12 Claudia Julieta’s life has been plagued with incidents of surveillance, harassment, and threats. This has not changed in the last several months. Even during the Colombian quarantine, which started in March 2020, Claudia has suffered several concerning security incidents, including online surveillance13 and having her telephone interpreted.14 Also, in April 2020, the One Free Press Coalition List included her name in the list of the ten most urgent cases of threats against freedom of expression in the world. This is due to the existence of a criminal plan against her, which originated inside the National Protection Unit (UNP). This information is based on a complaint filed in March by the journalist with the National Prosecutor General’s Office. Additionally, the journalist has knowledge of additional espionage and illegal intelligence actions, carried out between February 2018 and through at least July 2019, carried out by a private company with orders from a high-level state employee.15
Unfortunately, in Colombia the complaints of wire-tapping and intelligence against journalists are not a thing of the past. This is shown by the recent scandal, uncovered in May 2020, targeting, among others, human rights organizations and several Colombian and foreign journalists.16 This is a particularly critical moment for journalists in Colombia. The FLIP stated that the situation has deteriorated drastically since the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Government and FARC-EP: 583 threats against journalists were registered between 2017 and 2019, an increase of 326 incidents or 44% compared with the two previous years.17
Amid this scenario of constant threats and Claudia Julieta’s incessant and untiring search for justice, international bodies represent hope. On 17 June, 2020, after an almost two year wait, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent the complaint presented by Claudia Julieta and her daughter to the Colombian State18 for 15 years of attacks and persecution. This means that the case has formally entered the admissibility phase. Even though she is aware that this is a very long and complex process, in the words of Claudia Julieta, “a door of hope has finally opened for justice.”
The FLIP stated that the situation has deteriorated drastically since the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Government and FARC-EP: 583 threats against journalists were registered between 2017 and 2019, an increase of 326 incidents or 44% compared with the two previous years.
More recently, on 6 August, the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca convicted the DAS, Prosecutor General’s Office of the Nation, and Ministry of the Interior for the persecution and torture of Claudia Julieta, and ordered these entities to pay the largest compensation to date for a DAS victim and one of the highest for cases of human rights violations.19
Even though the ruling isn’t final and it is expected that the convicted entities will appeal, this is an important ruling that, among other things, established that a “criminal organization” was created inside the DAS, generating “an evident violation of the journalist and her family’s fundamental rights to life, human dignity, freedom, and privacy.”20
Bogotá Field Team