Miami (February 1, 2012)—On the 10th anniversary today of the death of Colombian journalist Orlando Sierra Hernández the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) called on the authorities of the South American nation to finally solve his case so as to bring about the prosecution of those accused of having masterminded his murder and so prevent them from going unpunished.
Sierra Hernández, managing editor of the Manizales, Caldas, newspaper La Patria, was wounded at 1:50 p.m. on January 30, 2002 in the center of the city. He was holding the hand of his daughter Beatriz, with whom he was returning from lunch, when a hitman, who had been waiting for him in hiding for several hours, shot him. He died two days later, on February 1.
The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, declared, “This crime and the legal proceedings have become a symbol of lack of punishment having no deadline and that it is possible to move ahead in the quest for justice.”
Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La Repúbica, added, “We trust that the Colombian justice system will finally bring to court and examine as soon as possible the evidence against all suspected masterminds and perpetrators of this homicide so as to solve the case and put an end to the impunity surrounding it.”
Sierra Hernández’ death shocked the local community, as he enjoyed prestige and respect among his fellow citizens for his Sunday column titled “Punto de encuentro” (Point of Encounter) in which he exposed political corruption in Caldas province.
In 2011, nine years after the fatal attack, the Bogotá public prosecutor specializing in human rights cases, Luis Alberto Reyes, ordered the arrest of Caldas provincial Liberal politicians Ferney Tapasco González and his son Dixon Tapasco Triviño as suspected masterminds of the crime.
Tapasco González, the father, is currently in jail serving a sentence for his links to paramilitaries and is awaiting trial on a charge of having masterminded the killing of Sierra Hernández. Another two persons in custody, Henry Calle, a.k.a. Botija, and Oscar Alonso López Escobar, have also been cited as possible intermediaries in the case. Tapasco Triviño, the son, is no longer part of the investigation.
Sentenced in 2002 to 19 years in prison for having carried out the murder was Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, a hired gunman who was found to have shot Sierra Hernández. He was held in jail for only five years, being granted parole and released in 2007, but he died shortly afterwards in a clash with police. Also convicted, as co-perpetrators, to 28 years in prison were Luis Tabares Hernández, a.k.a. Tilín, and Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco, a.k.a. Pereque.
The Sierra Hernández case represents for the IAPA a symbol of the anti-impunity battle in Colombia. The hemisphere organization investigated the incident through its Rapid Response Unit in Colombia and produced a documentary titled “La Batalla del Silencio” (The Battle of Silence) that denounced the crime. Legal proceedings in the case were also the basis of a study carried out by the IAPA and the Colombian Newspapers Association, ANDIARIOS, of irregularities in the granting of parole, with its recommendations being taken into account for the 2010 legal reform that lengthened the statute of limitations in crimes against journalists from 20 to 30 years.
The IAPA 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 IAPA Impunity Project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and has the mission of combating violence against journalists and lessening the impunity surrounding the majority of such crimes. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org; http://www.impunidad.com