New York, November 21, 2008--A decision to order the arrest of renowned Colombian journalist Alejandro Santos Rubino is an act of censorship, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A Bogotá judge ordered the arrest of Santos, the director of the national weekly newsmagazine Semana, for failing to follow the court's instructions in a defamation suit.
Judge Amanda Vargas de Norato of the Penal Circuit of Bogotá
issued an arrest warrant for Santos
on Thursday after Semana did not follow the exact instructions of a correction
in a defamation case decided in August, according to CPJ sources and local news
reports. He was charged with contempt of court. Judge Vargas ordered Santos to be held for
three days at the police precinct closest to his home or at the headquarters of
the Colombian national intelligence service, the Administrative
Department of Security, and to pay a fine of 2.7 million pesos (US$1,200),
the national daily El Tiempo reported.
According to Colombian law, the Superior Tribunal of Bogotá's Judicial District
must review Vargas' order within the next three days.
Thursday's decision stems from a defamation suit brought by
José Alfredo Escobar Araújo, the former president of Colombia's
Superior Council of the Judiciary, Santos
told CPJ. In the suit, Escobar claimed Semana
and Santos, as
the magazine's director, had damaged his honor and reputation and invaded his
privacy in an April 28 article that described the close friendship between an
individual with alleged ties to drug trafficking and various public
personalities, including Escobar, according to local news reports.
On August 11, a Bogotá judge ruled in favor of Escobar and
ordered Semana to print a correction, which the newsmagazine did, Santos told CPJ. On
September 12, the Superior Tribunal of Bogotá's Judicial District found that
the correction was insufficient and ordered a second correction, according to local
news reports. Semana published
a second correction but did not follow the exact guidelines of the court, which
instructed the magazine to
publish the changes on its cover.
"This entire legal process has been deeply flawed and
undermines the vitality of the Colombian media by allowing a judge to dictate
what can and cannot be published," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ Americas senior program
coordinator. "Holding Alejandro Santos in contempt of court could weaken press
freedom protections in Colombia.
We call on judicial authorities to
drop this case."
Semana has been instrumental in uncovering a series
of scandals that have shaken the President Álvaro Uribe Vélez's administration.
In late 2006, the weekly published a series of investigative pieces on the
links between far-right paramilitary groups and Colombian officials and politicians.
More than 50 politicians and officials were arrested as a result, according to news