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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Court condemns Colombian State for murder of journalist Jaime Garzón



In a Sept. 14 judgment, the Council of the State of Colombia – the highest court that handles legal processes involving the state – found the Nation responsible for the murder of journalist and humorist Jaime Garzón Forero, which occurred on Aug. 13, 1999.

In its ruling, the high court sentenced the Nation, represented by the Ministry of Defense, the Army and the National Police, and noted the responsibility of agents of the now-defunct Administrative Security Department (DAS for its initials in Spanish), the country’s former intelligence agency. He also ordered the state to financially compensate the relatives of the journalist and to hold a public ceremony in which the commander of the Army and the director of the National Police make apologies and accept responsibility for the crime.

According to the Council of the State, the murder was committed by an alliance between agents of the State with groups outside the law, in this case, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). He also added that in his opinion, Garzón’s murder was a crime against humanity.

The court also said that the killing was an “extrajudicial execution” that occurred “in the midst of a widespread and systematic attack led and/or sponsored by the state institution, against a certain group of individuals with common political characteristics, meaning, people who might have some type of link with subversive groups (NGOs, human rights defenders, journalists, etc.”

According to the Council of the State, “it is proven” that José Minguel Narváez, the former deputy director of Intelligence of the DAS, and the former chief of Intelligence of Brigade 13 of the Army, Col. Jorge Eliécer Plazas Acevedo, “not only advanced pursuits against the comedian, but also shared collected information with the former commander of the AUC, Carlos Castaño, to whom they suggested the murder.”

Garzón’s activities as a mediator in kidnappings committed by the FARC guerrilla group caused state actors to link him with the guerillas and from there to urge Castaño to end his life, the Council of the State said.

There is only one conviction in Garzón’s murder. Carlos Castaño was convicted and sentenced to 38 years in prison in 2004, but by then, the former paramilitary leader was dead, according to El Espectador.

However, both Narváez and Plazas Acevedo are being prosecuted for the crime: Narváez for the crime of aggravated homicide as co-author and Plazas Acevedo for the crime of aggravated homicide as intellectual author, the publication added.

This past March, the prosecution of Colombia cataloged Garzón’s murder as a “crime of the State.” As also noted by the Council of the State, the prosecution considers that agents of the State followed the journalist and gave information to hitmen from a criminal gang “La Terraza” of Medellín, which arrived in Bogotá to commit the murder contracted by Castaño.

The prosecution argued that the hired assassins even stayed at Plazas Acevedo’s house. The prosecution also has a hypothesis that links a general of the National Police to having helped to divert the investigation of the murder.

However, the prosecution has rejected cataloguing his murder as a crime against humanity. Family members, lawyers and organizations like the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP for its acronym in Spanish), created a petition in order to prevent the crime from prescribing, in other words, to allow more time for investigation.



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