Colombia: journalist gets 18-month sentence for article

On Feb. 29 the Superior Court of Colombia’s Cundinamarca department upheld a lower court’s conviction of journalist Luis AgustĂ­n González for “injurias” (“abuse” or “insults”) against former governor and senator MarĂ­a Leonor Serrano de Camargo. The court threw out the lower court’s conviction of González for libel. The journalist faces a sentence of 18 months in prison and fine of 9.5 million pesos (about $5,450).

At issue was an editorial González wrote in 2008 for Cundinamarca Democrática, which he edits. He accused Serrano of “arrogance” and “despotism” while she was governor of the department, which includes Bogotá. González also suggested that Serrano might be connected with a murder and with disappearances that occurred in 1989 in the town of Fusagusagá while she was the mayor there; he implied that she could face charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The ruling against González brought condemnations from the Miami-based Inter American Press Association (Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, SIP) and the French-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which called it “a serious precedent, a boost for self-censorship and a gag on freedom of opinion.” Comparing González’s conviction to Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa’s libel suit against the editors of the daily El Universo, RSF said that “this latest case highlights the urgent need to decriminalize the offences of defamation, slander and libel in Colombia.” (RSF, March 3, Spanish and English; EFE, March 2, via

In other news, on Feb. 29 a Bogotá judge ordered the immediate release of Liliany Obando, the former director of the National Unified Agricultural Union Federation (FENSUAGRO), after three years and seven months in prison. She was arrested in August 2008 on charges of organizing events and managing money for the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The judge ruled that prosecutors had failed to comply with time limits in pursuing the case. (Colombia Reports, March 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 4.

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