Colombian Supreme Court drops suit against columnist

The Colombian Supreme Court announced on August 27, 2012, that it would drop a defamation complaint against prominent journalist Cecilia Orozco Tascón, according to news reports. Five days earlier, the court released a statement saying it would file charges against Orozco, who writes a widely read column in the Bogotá daily El Espectador. The court also criticized a column by another journalist, María Jimena Duzán, which was published in the weekly Semana magazine.

This unprecedented decision by the court’s criminal chamber was widely criticized in Colombia, according to local press reports. 

In the August 27 statement withdrawing the complaint, the court reiterated its objections to the journalists’ columns, but said that for the country’s sake it would “put aside the justices’ personal interest in making a judicial claim in respect of their honor and reputations.”

In her August 22 column, Orozco had criticized the courts for removing magistrate Iván Velásquez from his position as chief of the court’s investigative unit. Velásquez was a key figure in uncovering financial and political links between public officials and now-disbanded illegal right-wing paramilitary groups. Orozco questioned the court’s official explanation that Velásquez had simply completed his term, and suggested that his removal was the result of pressure from implicated politicians who wanted to derail the ongoing court investigations. The journalist also suggested that many of the Supreme Court judges had earned their jobs as a result of political favors.

The Supreme Court denied Orozco’s charges and said her language offended the honor of the court. The court also said the column was “unfounded,” “twisted,” and “denigrating.” Orozco told Bogotá’s RCN Radio that she stood by “every comma” in her column.

Duzán’s August 19 column criticized a series of changes by the court that she said gave deferential treatment to politicians, as it could result in lighter prison sentences for officials convicted of crimes in comparison with regular citizens. She also criticized the court’s decision to extradite a major paramilitary figure to the United States on drug charges rather than make him face trial in Colombia for the massacre of civilians.

The Supreme Court denied the allegations and criticized the column, calling it “biased.”

“I stand by what I wrote,” Duzán told CPJ. “The court should respond to these problems rather than trying to put columnists on trial.”