Investigation stalls in Colombian journalist’s murder

New York, May 24, 2010—Two months after the murder of Colombian journalist Clodomiro Castilla Ospino, the investigation is stalled and the victim’s daughter has been forced to flee her hometown of Montería after being followed and harassed. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities today to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into Castilla’s killing, provide protection for his family, and bring those responsible to justice.  

Castilla, editor and publisher of the local newsmagazine El Pulso del Tiempo, was shot by two unidentified assailants on a motorcycle outside his house on March 19 in the city of Montería, northern Colombia, according to local news accounts. Colombian authorities have not identified any suspect or disclosed possible motives. On March 26, the investigation into the journalist’s killing was taken over by the attorney general’s office in Bogotá. No progress has been reported since.

Tania Castilla Florez, the journalist’s daughter and a witness in the case, told CPJ that she fled Montería in late April after several episodes in which she and her family had been followed. In one instance, two hooded men on a motorcycle approached her suddenly, causing her to run into her home. Castilla said she and other family members had also been followed by a van with tinted windows.

A day after Clodomiro Castilla Ospino was murdered, President Alvaro Uribe Vélez condemned the killing and offered a reward of 50 million pesos (US$26,000) for information leading to the perpetrators of the crime, local press reports said.

“It appears that those who carried out the murder of Clodomiro Castilla Ospino are so brazen that they feel free to intimidate his family,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Impunity surrounding this case is causing a chilling effect and inhibiting the media’s ability to report the news freely.”

Castilla had covered a number of sensitive issues. The national daily El Tiempo said the journalist reported on the unlawful use of state funds in 2006 congressional campaigns, and a court case in which he was instructed to apologize for a photo montage published in his newsmagazine. Shortly before his death, El Tiempo reported, Castilla had covered a court ruling against the owner of the Montería-based newspaper El Meridiano in a land dispute.

Castilla had also received numerous threats for at least four years in retaliation for his coverage of the links among local politicians, landowners, and illegal right-wing paramilitary groups, local journalists told CPJ.

The Colombian government gave Castilla protection from 2006 to 2009 because of the many threats against him, the local press freedom group Foundation for the Press Freedom (FLIP) said in a statement issued after the journalist’s death. In November 2009, however, the Ministry of Interior withdrew protection based on a national intelligence agency assessment that Castilla was no longer under threat, according to FLIP.