September 14, 2000
His Excellency Andrés Pastrana Arango
President of the Republic of Colombia
Casa de Nariño
VIA FACSIMILE: 571-286-7434 / 286-7937 / 284-2186
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the lack of progress in the prosecutor general’s investigation into the kidnapping and torture of Jineth Bedoya Lima, a noted investigative reporter with the Bogotá-based daily El Espectador.
According to CPJ research, Bedoya was almost certainly abducted by right-wing paramilitary forces. Circumstantial evidence would also suggest that Colombian law-enforcement personnel were complicit in the kidnapping, which took place in broad daylight outside a local prison. Yet to date, investigators have made no serious effort to interview prison guards and other key witnesses.
As Your Excellency is aware, Bedoya was kidnapped on May 25 outside La Modelo Prison, near Bogotá. After being drugged and abducted at gunpoint, the journalist was driven over three hours to the city of Villavicencio, where she was brutally assaulted. Bedoya was found 10 hours later in a state of nervous collapse, crawling out of a roadside garbage dump.
The likely motive for Bedoya’s kidnapping was El Espectador‘s coverage of an April 27 battle at La Modelo between common criminals and inmates who belonged to right-wing paramilitary factions. El Espectador suggested that paramilitary leaders might have ordered execution-style killings during the battle. Bedoya reported extensively on the prison riots, apparently offending paramilitary leaders at La Modelo in the process.
Bedoya visited La Modelo on May 25 in order to interview a paramilitary leader known as “The Baker” (“El Panadero”). She hoped to confront him about recent death threats to herself and some of her colleagues at El Espectador.
Carlos Castaño, leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the leading paramilitary organization, has publicly denied that his organization had anything to do with Bedoya’s kidnapping. But before being driven to Villavivencio, a paramilitary stronghold, Bedoya was taken to a known paramilitary safe house within walking distance of the prison gate. Even if Castaño was not directly involved, it seems virtually certain that the attack was carried out by persons associated with the AUC.
We appreciate Your Excellency’s commitment to “strengthen the actions [the government] has taken in defense of freedom of expression,” as stated in your June 28 letter to CPJ. We also applaud Decree 1592 of August 18, establishing the Program for the Protection of Journalists and Social Communicators, as a step in the right direction. However, we believe that Colombian authorities must investigate attacks against journalists more forcefully if these initiatives are to succeed.
CPJ supports Your Excellency’s decision to provide Bedoya with two bodyguards at all times, but we think the best protection would be to bring those responsible for her torture to justice. This would show Bedoya and her colleagues that the Colombian government and judicial system can guarantee both their safety and their right to report freely on the country’s escalating civil conflict.
CPJ would welcome any new information that might emerge in the course of the Bedoya investigation. Thank you for your consideration.
Ann K. Cooper