Colombian Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez is seen at the Colombian embassy in Washington, D.C., on May 6, 2019. Ramírez recently filed a criminal defamation suit against journalist Jeremy McDermott. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

Colombian vice president files criminal defamation suit against journalist

Bogotá, July 28, 2020 – Colombian Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez should drop her criminal defamation suit against InSight Crime journalist Jeremy McDermott, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 24, the attorney general’s office notified McDermott, a British national who works as co-director and legal representative of the Medellín-based news organization InSight Crime, that Ramírez had filed a criminal defamation suit against him, according to McDermott, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and a copy of the notice, which CPJ reviewed.

The criminal lawsuit, filed by Ramírez on June 2, accuses McDermott of damaging the “moral integrity, good name, dignity and honor” of the vice president in an article that alleged a connection between Ramírez’s husband, Álvaro Rincón, and a suspected drug trafficker, according to the notice.

The notice was signed by Mario Hernan Barahona, the prosecutor assigned to the case. If convicted of defamation, McDermott could face 16 to 54 months in prison and a fine of up to about $375,000, according to Article 220 of Colombia’s penal code.

InSight Crime was founded in 2010 and publishes analysis and investigative stories about organized crime in Latin America.

“As a senior public official, Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez should expect to be covered extensively by the press, and should refrain from filing lawsuits against journalists,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Colombia should have scrapped criminal defamation from its books long ago, in line with growing regional trends. Ramírez should drop her suit against Jeremy McDermott immediately, and the country should reform its laws.”

The notice does not say exactly how McDermott allegedly defamed Ramírez, but cites a March 29, 2020, InSight Crime article by McDermott alleging a connection between a property company run by Rincón and a suspected drug trafficker.

In an interview in the article, Rincón told InSight Crime that he had worked with the suspected trafficker, but said he was not aware of the allegations against the man at the time. McDermott told CPJ that his reporting never implicated Ramírez in any illegal activity and that he interviewed her for his investigation.

“The vice president had every opportunity to respond during the entire publication process,” McDermott told CPJ.

Mirta Fonseca, the vice president’s spokesperson, told CPJ via messaging app that she would pass CPJ’s queries on to Ramírez, but CPJ did not receive any response at the time of publication.

The legal notification from the attorney general’s office invited McDermott to meet with Ramírez as soon as possible via videoconference to try to reconcile their differences before the lawsuit goes any farther. McDermott says that he stands by his reporting and would not issue any retractions.