New York, February 26, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the sentencing Thursday of former paramilitary fighter Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco to 11 years in prison for the kidnap and torture of Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima in 2000.
Bedoya, who at the time of the attack was reporting on paramilitary death squads for the daily El Espectador, said she was kidnapped outside La Modelo prison in Bogotá on May 25, 2000. The assailants bound her hands and feet, taped her mouth, and blindfolded her. They then drove her to the nearby city of Villavicencio, where she was beaten and raped, according to the attorney general’s office.
“It’s not a day of celebration. It’s a day of vindication,” Bedoya told CPJ after hearing of the conviction.
Cárdenas, who goes by the alias J.J., pleaded guilty to kidnap and torture before the Special Attorney General’s Office for Human Rights, according to a statement released Thursday by the attorney general. The statement said Cárdenas did not accept a charge of rape. The attorney general’s statement said it would continue to investigate his alleged role in the sexual assault on Bedoya. The judge ordered Cárdenas to pay a fine of around US$17,500.
“This sentence is an important step toward justice, but we urge authorities to continue the prosecution of Cárdenas for the crime of sexual assault and to hold to account all of those responsible for the attack on Jineth Bedoya Lima,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas.
In 2011, Cárdenas confessed to charge of kidnap and torture as part of the “justice and peace” judicial program that offered former paramilitary fighters reduced sentences in exchange for confessions. In 2013 however, Cárdenas retracted his confession, according to local news reports.
The hearing Thursday was under Colombia’s regular criminal proceedings and not as part of the justice and peace program. The judge granted a 40 percent reduction in Cárdenas’s sentence for cooperation, according to news reports.
The sentencing comes a few weeks after a second person confessed to being part of the attack. In a public hearing on February 2, Mario Jaimes Mejía, who was also a paramilitary fighter, pleaded guilty to kidnap, torture, and rape. He said that the attack was committed to “shut up” the journalist, according to reports. News reports state that Mejía could be sentenced to more than 25 years in prison.
This month, the Attorney General’s Office asked the courts to exclude Cárdenas and Mejía from the justice and peace judicial program because their contradictory statements and previous denials showed they had not taken responsibility for the crime or fulfilled the obligations of truth that form the basis of the program.
The sentence against Cárdenas came as the Colombian dailies El Tiempo and El Espectador announced they would publish the investigation of arms trafficking and killings within the La Modelo prison on which Bedoya was working when she was kidnapped. “After 16 years this is the first step toward real justice. It is the first in a long road, and it arrives just as the two most important newspapers in Colombia have decided to jointly publish the investigation that was cut off by my kidnapping,” Bedoya told CPJ.
“My last 15 years and six months have been a mixture of pain, anger, infinite love for my work, obstinacy and, yes, hopelessness,” Bedoya wrote in “The Sadness of May the 25,” an article included in the 2016 edition of CPJ’s Attacks on the Press, which will be published on April 27. “I still do not know where I found the strength to return to the newsroom, to my notes and to my tape recorder. What I do see clearly is what motivated me. I understand now that my love for this profession and for my work as a reporter was greater than the pain of my body and my soul.”