Bogotá, February 19, 2020 -- Colombian authorities should drop their arrest warrant against journalist Edison Lucio Torres and allow him to report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On February 3, in the northern city of Cartagena, Judge Luis Germán Herrera of the Eighth Circuit Criminal Court found Torres, founder of the independent Cartagena-based news website Vox Populi, to be in contempt of a court order to take down articles from Vox Populi and his personal website, and ordered he be detained for 10 days and pay a fine of about $2,600, according to news reports. Torres told CPJ in a phone interview today that his appeal of the court’s decision was denied.
He said he was notified of the arrest warrant relating to his contempt finding on February 9.
Torres told CPJ that police have not come to arrest him. He said he has filed an appeal against the arrest warrant and would turn himself in next week if the appeal is not accepted. He said he would not take down the articles.
“Edison Lucio Torres should not face prison time for standing by his reporting and refusing to take down articles from his website,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Issuing an arrest warrant and holding a journalist in contempt for failing to censor his own writing sets a dangerous precedent that can chill reporting on matters of public interest in Colombia.”
The series of eight articles, which were published on Vox Populi and Torres’ personal website beginning in 2016, alleged that the family members of Pastor Miguel Arrázola and his wife, Pastor María Paula García, lived luxuriously off donations to the church.
Miguel Arrázola responded to Torres during one of his sermons in 2017 by threatening to have the journalist killed, according to news reports.
In November 2019, the pastors filed a complaint alleging that Torres’ articles damaged their reputations and demanding that the journalist remove the stories, and the following month a Cartagena court ruled in their favor, Torres said.
Torres told CPJ that he did not know that the complaint had been filed at the time because he did not see the email notifying him of the legal proceeding. He said he “had no chance to defend myself or my reporting.”
CPJ’s calls to Miguel Arrázola’s office at his church were not returned.