Press group applauds action in journalist’s murder case

The Inter American Press Association has welcomed the decision by the Colombian attorney general’s office to order the preventive detention of two politicians as alleged masterminds behind the murder of journalist Orlando Sierra, calling the action a strong move against impunity.

Bogotá’s ninth human rights special prosecutor, Luis Alberto Reyes, ordered the arrest without bail of Fernay Tapasco González and his son, Dixon Tapasco Triviño, politicians in Caldas province for their alleged involvement as masterminds in the murder of journalist Orlando Sierra committed Jan. 30, 2002, said the organization.

The suspects are currently being held at the La Picota prison in the Colombian capital. Tapasco Triviño is serving a seven-year term for his links with paramilitary groups, while the authorities are continuing to investigate his father on the same charge.

Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Siglo XXI, declared, “This new act is a strong step by the judiciary and gives us hope that it will prevail over impunity.” He is president of the Inter American Press Association

Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, chairman of the organization’s Impunity Committee and president of the Mexico City, Mexico, newspaper El Universal, added, “This is an incentive for our hard work because orders such as this one strengthen our resolve to fight for solutions in the other murders than remain unpunished.”

Sierra, managing editor of the Manizales newspaper La Patria, was returning from lunch with his daughter and heading for the main door of the newspaper’s office when a hitman shot him three times in the head. The incident was caught on a security camera.

The attorney general’s order came six months after the two politicians were identified during official inquiries, something that the Inter American Press Association had been calling for since investigations in 2004 by its own rapid response unit in Colombia. The Inter American Press Association featured the impunity surrounding this case in its documentary “La Batalla del Silencio” (The Battle of Silence), broadcast by several television networks in the Americas, including during prime time in Colombia.

The two suspects’ defense lawyers said they would appeal the detention order.

Hired gunman Luis Fernando Soto Zapata was sentenced in May 2002 to 29 years in prison for commiting the murder of Sierra. After a series of sentence reductions he was released in 2007 and died in a clash with police in July 2008. Also convicted as co-perpetrators and sentenced to 28 years in prison were Luis Tabares Hernández, and Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco.

An additional two persons arrested, Henry Calle and Oscar Alonso López Escobar, are accused of involvement as intermediaries in the crime.

Since the Inter American Press Association launched its anti-impunity campaign in 1995 a total of 138 people have been convicted for murdering journalists in the Americas. 117 are still in prison and 21 have been released after serving their sentences. being granted parole or for other reasons.

The Inter American Press Association officers announced that during the organization’s midyear meeting, to be held in San Diego, California next week, they will present resolutions to be sent to government authorities concerning this case and other murders that have taken place recently in Mexico, Honduras and Paraguay.

According to figures compiled by the organization, since 1987 a total of 363 journalists have been killed and another 21 have gone missing.

The Inter American Press Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. The parent company of A.M. Costa Rica is a member.

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