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Knight Center


End to impunity: in landmark case, Colombia captured the mastermind of the murder of journalist Orlando Sierra

Colombian authorities reported the arrest of former legislator and politician Ferney Tapasco for whom it had issued an arrest warrant after he was sentenced for being the mastermind of the murder of journalist Orlando Sierra. The capture by the prosecution and the police took place in the early hours of Nov. 1, according to newspaper La Patria.

Tapasco has been a fugitive from justice since June 24 when the Supreme Court of the city of Manizales sentenced him to 36 years in prison for aggravated murder. He was charged with being the mastermind of the murder of Sierra, 42, which occurred in January 2002.

Initial reports said that Tapasco was wearing a disguise at a Halloween party when he was found. However, the police said that he was found in an apartment, still asleep and with changes to his personal appearance.

Tapasco’s sentence was a landmark for the country since it marked the first time that the entire criminal network, from the intellectual authors to the perpetrators, were condemned to justice in the murder of a journalist.

Organizations such as the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP for its acronym in Spanish), the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), among others, spoke positively about the court’s decision.

However, since the sentence was handed down, Tapasco’s whereabouts were unknown and it was even rumored that he had left the country, according to El Espectador. His lawyers had tried to find alternatives for delivering Tapasco on the grounds that the sentence was "unjust", according to Semana.

Weeks before the capture, Tabasco’s son said in an interview with Blu Radio that his father "has not fled but has not been submitted to the authorities," according to the website of the radio station.

According to the court, Sierra, who was then deputy director of the Manizales newspaper La Patria, was killed in direct retaliation for his journalistic work. By the 90s, Sierra began to write about Tapasco, who was the president of the Liberal party in the department of Caldas, and previous crimes for which he had been convicted. The journalist also "investigated possible links between Tapasco and a death squad," CPJ said at the time of the sentencing.

Sierra had denounced corruption among politicians in Caldas through his Sunday column 'Meeting Point'.

In its June 24, 2015 judgment, Fabio López Escobar and Jorge Hernando López Escobar were also convicted to nearly 29 years in prison, for having negotiated with a group of hitmen en in the crime against Sierra.

Police are still searching for them, according to Semana.

Others have been convicted in Sierra’s case. Luis Fernando Soto Zapata was sentenced to 19 years in prison, accused of being the perpetrator of the crime, but was released early. He was killed after a shootout with police in the city of Cali. Francisco Antonio Quintero Tabares and Luis Arley Orozco 28 were sentenced to prison as accomplices to the murder.

Tabasco’s capture came a day before the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in a December 2013 resolution.

Although the murders of journalists in Colombia have decreased and this year the country was not included in CPJ’s 2015 Global Impunity Index, lack of prosecution in crimes against journalists remains a major concern in the country. There is particular concern about the possibility that exists in Colombian law for expiration of crimes, ie. the amount of time prescribed by law for investigations and prosecutions to be carried out. After this time is up, the case is closed. According to figures from the FLIP, from 1977 to 2015, 144 journalists have been killed in the country. By October 2014, 67 of those cases have expired, according to the organization.


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