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Claudia Duque: Former DAS agent convicted for torture of Colombian journalist 

Claudia Duque: Former DAS agent convicted for torture of Colombian journalist 

For over two decades journalist Claudia Duque was subjected to a prolonged campaign of psychological torture at the hands of the now-defunct Colombian secret police, the Department of Security (DAS).

Since 2001, Duque faced relentless persecution — from kidnapping to the ceaseless invasion of her privacy, encompassing illegal surveillance of phone calls, emails, and bank accounts. This espionage and torture did not only targeted her. It also extended to her friends and family, including her daughter, who was a young child at the time.

On November 20th, one of the former DAS agents involved in the torture was finally convicted. Ronal Harbey Rivera Rodriguez is the first agent convicted in a trial in Duque’s case. He now faces a 12.5-year prison sentence. Three other perpetrators accepted the criminal charges in 2014 and 2015 and were sentenced to prison terms.

This verdict delivered by the Tribunal Superior del Distrito Judicial de Bogotá in Colombia, overturned the first instance court’s acquittal of the former agent. Rivera was originally acquitted due to alleged uncertainty of his involvement. Notably, the Colombian Public Prosecutor did not appeal the acquittal, prompting Duque and her lawyers to file an appeal as a “civil party.”

This time, Rivera was found guilty of psychological torture related to illegal surveillance of Duque and her daughter. However, while the judgment recognised that Duque was subjected to this prolonged surveillance and torture from July 2001 to December 2004, Rivera was only convicted for his crimes against Duque between March 2003 and December 2004.

Wider impact for journalist protection

The appeal’s judgment is crucial for journalist protection. Not only does this decision vindicate Duque’s rights, but it also constitutes a positive development for freedom of expression more broadly.

Justice Served:
The decision emphasised that there has always been ample evidence of illegal persecution by the DAS, demonstrating that justice was unnecessarily delayed in Duque’s case. The acknowledgement of prolonged injustice is a positive step towards combatting impunity.

Accountability:
Rivera has been found guilty as a co-author. In other words, he was part of the group that conceived this systematic surveillance campaign against Duque. Although Rivera was not directly involved in the implementation of the actions that constituted torture, the court found that he was culpable since he and his co-organisers shared a common plan. Given that this campaign occurred while Rivera held public office, this finding further challenges impunity by ensuring accountability for influential actors.

Gender Consideration:
The judgment provides an analysis of the intersecting dangers faced by Claudia Duque and her daughter. Within this analysis a crucial aspect was highlighted. It provided explicit reference to a “differentiated sexual risk” experienced by a woman journalist and her daughter as retaliation for journalistic work. Recognising gendered risks is an important stride in addressing gender-based violence and safeguarding voices of dissenting women.

A Crime Against Humanity:
The court classified the torture perpetrated against Duque as a crime against humanity. This is due to the finding that the campaign against her was facilitated by state-sponsored illegal surveillance, was systematic and was part of a long-term strategy of surveillance and intimidation of civilians identified as opponents to the government. 

Reparation Measures:
The court gave specific orders that Rivera must serve a 12.5 year prison sentence and pay a fine. His sentence cannot be replaced with non-custodial sanctions, or with house arrest. These measures are integral given that influential figures often evade responsibility for their actions through these less punitive measures.

Additionally, the court issued specific orders for reparation. This included a public apology by the President of the Republic acknowledging the injustice faced by Duque and her family. The Presidency must also publish the judgment for two years on its website.

An encouraging outcome

Media Defence have stood alongside Claudia Julieta Duque in her pursuit for justice for many years. We are proud to represent Duque before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We are also proud to have supported this specific appeal in Rivera’s case.

Media Defence’s CEO, Carlos Gaio stated that “this judgment is encouraging, and we hope that the Colombian Justice system will act swiftly to try the remaining perpetrators of this crime against humanity. We will continue supporting Claudia to make sure impunity doesn’t win in her case.”

Media Defence would also like to congratulate Claudia Duque’s legal representation, including Emmanuel Vargas Penagos on this positive outcome.

You can read more about Claudia Duque’s cases here and here.

Note

The decision can be appealed, and a cassation be requested.

As of the writing of this note Rivera has not yet been brought into custody.

For more details, visit link

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