José Emeterio Rivas

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Police found the bullet-riddled body of radio commentator
Rivas, host of the morning program “Fuerzas Vivas” (Live Forces), on a road
outside Barrancabermeja, according to news reports and CPJ interviews.

In the weeks prior to his death, Rivas accused then-Mayor Julio
César Ardila Torres and other local officials of corruption and collaboration
with members of the right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of
Colombia (AUC), according to CPJ research. Diego Waldrón, a colleague, told CPJ
that Rivas had received repeated death threats.

Nearly six years later, a court in the northern
of Santander convicted
Ardilla and two former public works officials of plotting the murder. On
January 15, 2009, the court sentenced Ardila to 28 years and eight months in
prison on charges of aggravated murder and conspiracy, according to a statement
issued by the attorney general’s office. Former public works officials Fabio
Pajón Lizcano and Abelardo Rueda Tobón were sentenced to 26 years and eight
months in prison apiece on aggravated murder charges. Ardila was also fined
1,192 million pesos (US$531,000).

The three were the first masterminds to be convicted and
imprisoned in a journalist killing in Colombia
since 1992, CPJ research shows.

In a statement, the attorney general’s office said Rivas was
murdered in retaliation for his reports on official corruption and links
between Ardila’s administration and right-wing paramilitary groups. A fourth
defendant, Juan Pablo Ariza Castañeda, was acquitted.

Ardila, Pajón, and Lizcano had faced allegations in the case
as early as September 2003, according to CPJ research. In 2007, the human
rights unit of the attorney general’s office restarted the investigation after
a demobilized paramilitary fighter Pablo Emilio Quintero Dodino confessed to
shooting Rivas at the behest of the local officials.

Quintero, a one-time member of the AUC, made the statement
during Law of Justice and Peace proceedings. The law grants leniency to members
of illegal armed groups in exchange for demobilization and full confessions to
their crimes. Quintero was convicted of engaging in paramilitary activities but
not in the killing itself.

Rivas’ body was found alongside another male victim, according
to CPJ interviews. The relationship between Rivas and the other victim was not
clear, local police commander Col. Jorge Gil told CPJ.