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Protests follow the release of ex paramilitary accused of kidnapping Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya

Update (June 5, 2015) : The Attorney General of Colombia, Eduardo Montealegre, ordered the recapture of former paramilitary Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco, alias 'JJ', linked to the kidnapping, torture and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, reported Semana.

Montealegre made the announcement two days after controversy erupted in the country due to the prosecutor's decision to terminate the investigation against Cárdenas Orozco in Bedoya's case. Following the order, Cárdenas Orozco​ was released on the night of June 2. [see original note below].

Montealegre also announced that the prosecutor who made that decision "will be removed" from the case, and will be subject to an investigation for the possible crime of malfeasance, the newspaper El Colombiano reported.

"The decision of the office of the public prosecutor...has errors of substance and form. It was not discussed with the director of Human Rights or the office of the Attorney General's Office, so as a result of the annulment, the office of the Attorney General ordered the reactivation of the detention and arrest warrant against 'JJ'," Montealegre said, according to El Colombiano.

Original Note (June 4, 2015):  Press freedom organizations protested a Colombian prosecutor's decision to not proceed with the investigation against a man allegedly involved in the kidnapping, torture and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima. The prosecutor also ordered the man's release. Bedoya herself protested the decision and said that it left her “disheartened but with [her] dignity intact.”

Jineth Bedoya Lima. Photo via Twitter @jbedoyalima.

On June 2, the office of public prosecutor that specializes in human rights and international humanitarian law closed the investigation against former paramilitary Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco, alias 'JJ', who in 2011 confessed his involvement in the kidnapping and torture but not in the sexual assault of Bedoya. In 2013, 'JJ' retracted his confession, reported El Espectador and El Tiempo.​

The prosecutor considered that there was not sufficient evidence to continue the investigation against ‘JJ’, so he terminated the case and released Cárdenas Orozco, according to El Tiempo. After his record was reviewed and it was determined that he had no other arrest warrants against him, 'JJ' was released on June 2. ​

On May 25, 2000, Bedoya Lima was kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused by the Centauros block of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC for its acronym in Spanish ). That day, the journalist was on her way to interview the former paramilitary leader Mario Jaimes Mejía, alias 'El Panadero', who requested to meet her in the Modelo prison in Bogota, according to the Attorney General's Office.​

While waiting at the entrance of this prison, Bedoya was kidnapped and taken to a farm where she was kept for a few hours. She was beaten, tortured and sexually abused. Finally, she was abandoned near the city of Villavicencio, in the department of Meta (a central region of the country), according to the office of the Attorney General.

That year, the journalist, who worked for El Espectadorwas conducting an investigation over the deaths of 26 inmates in the Modelo prison, the newspaper El Heraldo reported.

In 2011, Bedoya sued the Colombian government for the lack of justice in her case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights IACHR ), whose admissibility report was published in 2014 . In 2012, the Attorney General's Office declared the crimes in Bedoya's case as crimes against humanity. This means that her case does not have a statute of limitations.

Besides Cárdenas Orozco, two other former paramilitaries are tied to the criminal investigation: Mario Jaimes Mejía , alias "El Panadero", and Jesus Emiro Pereira , alias "Huevo e Pisca". Both are still detained, according to El Tiempo.

Reactions to the controversial decision were swift. The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP for its acronym in Spanish) said in a statement that "after 15 years of impunity, this decision is a huge setback in the search for justice and sends a message of permissiveness and impunity toward aggressions against the press".

"I see that this is the response of the Attorney General's Office to 15 years of impunity. Its ineffectiveness hits me deeply, but does not take away my strength to continue seeking justice," Beoyda said after hearing the news, according to FLIP. Bedoya also spoke through her Twitter account : "While supporting [the law against femicide] @FiscaliaCol ordered the release of one of my rapists. I am disheartened but with my dignity intact!".

Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in the Americas, said "we are troubled by the decision of Colombian authorities to release a suspect who confessed to participating in the horrific attack on journalist Jineth Bedoya 15 years ago." CPJ also urged the Colombian authorities "to make good on public commitment to prioritize fighting impunity in crimes against the press."

Inspector Attorney General Alejandro Ordonez asked the prosecutor’s office to review the decision and said he gave “instructions to intercede with legal actions to ensure that those responsible for this aggression are punished and that the Attorney (General's office) intervenes in all scenarios that they can, and that the relevant recourses are taken in the coming hours," El Tiempo reported.

The preclusion of an investigation is a procedural mechanism in Colombian law to terminate criminal proceedings before sentencing. The decision in the investigation against 'JJcan be appealed. According to Misael Rodriguez, head of the National Human Rights Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the appeal may be filed by the victim, her lawyers or public prosecutors.

Rodriguez said that "the Attorney General is committed to clarifying the facts", and insisted that the decision is not final and invited complainants to use legal mechanisms to make an appeal.


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