MIAMI, Florida (June 26, 2015)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed its satisfaction at the conviction in Colombia of the mastermind of the murder, 13 years ago, of Orlando Sierra Hernández, deputy editor of the Manizales newspaper La Patria, viewed as an emblematic case.
Francisco Ferney Tapasco González, former president of the Liberal Party in Caldas province, was sentenced on Wednesday (June 24) to 36 years in prison as the instigator of Sierra Hernández’ murder in February 2002. The Criminal Tribunal of the Higher Court in Manizales, the provincial capital, also sentenced brothers Fabio and Jorge Hernando López Escobar to 28 years behind bars as joint perpetrators of the murder. Another defendant was acquitted, according to a report by La Patria in its edition yesterday, http://bit.ly/1Hjwxri.
IAPA President Gustavo Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, declared, “At last justice has been done,” adding that this was “a great piece of news to celebrate for Orlando Sierra’s memory, for the suffering of the members of his family, for the honor of the La Patria colleagues, and for justice for all murdered Colombian journalists whose cases continue to go unpunished.”
Also spending 28 years in prison as joint perpetrators of the murder are Francisco Antonio Quintero Tabares (a.k.a. Tilín) and Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco (a.k.a. Pereque), and there is a court ruling pending concerning another accused person, Gabriel Jaime López Escobar, tried separately. Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, a perpetrator of the murder, was sentenced in 2002 to 17 years in prison, but after serving five years he was paroled and released ahead of time. He died a violent death in 2008.
Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, chairman of the IAPA’s Impunity Committee and president and editor-in-chief of the Mexican newspaper El Universal, said that “this case shows that in order to end the impunity, we can never give up. We must continue to demand the pursuit of justice until all those taking part in and responsible for crimes against journalists be punished.”
For his part Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said, “Precisely the high level of unpunished cases in Colombia led the IAPA to visit early this year with President Juan Manuel Santos. He acknowledged the problem and committed to pursue improvements.” On that occasion the IAPA delegation also met with members of Orlando Sierra’s family and those of other murdered journalists, added Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda.
On January 30, 2002, Sierra Hernández was seriously wounded by a hitman as he was returning from lunch with his daughter. He died on February 1. The attack was carried out openly in downtown Manizales. The murder of the prestigious journalist saddened the local population, who followed him through his Sunday column titled “Punto de Encuentro” (Meeting Point), in which he used to denounce political corruption in Caldas province.
For the IAPA his case represented a symbol of the fight against impunity in Colombia. The murder was investigated by the organization through its Rapid Response Unit in Colombia – part of the Impunity project that the Knight Foundation generously supported – which led to numerous calls upon the government and produced a documentary titled “La Batalla del Silencio” (The Battle of Silence) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICRGtBDoruU, which enabled the crime to be publicized.
The Sierra Hernández murder trial was also the basis for a study carried out by the IAPA and the Colombian newspaper association “ANDIARIOS” into irregularities in the anticipated parole. Those recommendations were taken into account for the 2010 legal reform which increased the length of the statute of limitations in crimes against journalists from 20 to 30 years.
The IAPA joined the reaction of La Patria newspaper’s editor, Nicolás Restrepo, who said that this “is a verdict that we had been awaiting for more than 30 years and justice has been done. With the court’s decision the mastermind has been found guilty and we are now satisfied that the crime has not remained unpunished.”
Restrepo added, “What is important is the precedent that has been set for journalism in general, as it is a message for press freedom to be strengthened and helps to improve the situation with regard to crimes against journalists that continue to go unpunished.”
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. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.