June 5, 2015 - Updated on January 20, 2016

What are Colombia’s judicial officials playing at?

The Colombian judicial system is doing journalist Jineth Bedoya great harm by its chaotic mishandling of the case against former paramilitary Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco, who confessed in 2011 to participating in her abduction and torture in May 2000 and later retracted.
Judicial officials have taken three contradictory decisions in the case in the past four days. On 2 June, a prosecutor ordered his release. The next day, the head of the government’s human rights unit said the decision was not definitive, and urged parties to the case to appeal. And finally, yesterday, Colombian attorney-general Eduardo Montealegre countermanded the release order and ordered the police to re-arrest Orozco, who was still at large when this press release was being drafted. “What is the justice system playing at in the Bedoya case?” said Claire San Filippo, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk. “The attorney-general’s decision to return Cárdenas to prison just underscores the absurdity of his release at the start of the week.” “We are dismayed by this confusion. They state is sending contradictory messages of Bedoya, to the victims of human rights violations in general, and to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). This chaos, which is having a terrible effect on Bedoya, shows how much remains to be done in a country where impunity for crimes of violence against journalists is the norm.” Cárdenas’ confession was originally portrayed to the IACHR as evidence that the Colombian state was delivering justice. But now, 15 years later, it is clear that impunity has yet again prevailed. Pedro Vaca, Bedoya’s lawyer and a member of the Bogotá-based Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), said this week’s events were indicative of the disorder within the justice system. “We don’t understand how the justice system’s position can change three times in a week,” he said. “This is having an enormous emotional impact on Jineth’s life. Procedurally, we are at the same point as we were at the start of the week, only the accused person has been released.” Then a crime reporter for the El Espectador newspaper, Bedoya went to Bogotá’s La Modelo prison on 25 May 2000 to research a story about prison uprisings and violence but was kidnapped outside the prison, taken away in a car, raped and tortured. Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco, a former member of the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), gave a confession in 2011 under the 2005 Justice and Peace Law, which allows “demobilized” paramilitaries to receive reduced sentences in return for confessions. When Cárdenas retracted his confession in 2013 it was argued that he should no longer benefit from the Justice and Peace Law. This was rejected by the prosecutor in charge of the case on the grounds that the events about which Cárdenas had lied were prior to his participation in the AUC. Bedoya, who had identified Cárdenas as one of her abductors, voiced dismay on Twitter at the news of his release. “The prosecutors have ordered the release of one of my rapists,” she posted. “My heart is wounded but my dignity is intact.” On 9 February, celebrated as Day of the Journalist in Colombia, Reporters Without Borders asked the country’s journalists what they would most like to receive as gift. The unanimous reply was physical safety and an end to impunity. Ranked 128th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Colombia is the western hemisphere’s second deadliest country for media personnel.