DUQUE: Torture, brutal silencing & permanent censorship threaten freedom of expression

“And even if we chose to let you live out the natural term of your life, still you would never escape from us. What happens to you here is forever. Understand that in advance. We shall crush you down to the point from which there is no coming back. Things will happen to you from which you could not recover, if you lived a thousand years. Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling.

Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” 
― George Orwell, 1984

This story began just as a man’s voice told me it would on November 17, 2004. It was a voice that I would recognize to be that of former DAS detective, Jose Alexander Sanchez.

I was warned about what was to come for “messing with the wrong one.”

That same warning came on the evening of July 23, 2001 from another former DAS member (I recognized his voice as German Albeiro Ospina Arango) during my kidnapping: this was happening to me for wanting to bring back the dead, for not leaving garbage where it should be.

Both men are free and have never been investigated in connection with my case. In the meantime, I have endured 18 years of persecution for believing in the utopia of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 18 years!

For nearly two decades, a period in time that should have been the best of my life, I suffered threats and smear campaigns, judicial authorities made a mockery of me, I went through isolation, confinement, exile, and torture at the hands of criminal structures that are still active despite the dismantling of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS).

DAS members are currently laying low in entities such as the Attorney General’s Office, the National Protection Unit, the National Agency for the Restitution of Land, Migrations Colombia, the National Intelligence Directorate and the Office of the Prosecutor or in private companies with the only aim of committing illegal actions of organized crime, as the Laude Jose Fernandez Arroyo case has shown, to favour political, financial and social powers in a country where standing up for human rights has always been welcomed in speeches, laws and texts, all born dead.

Here I am, 18 years later, just hours away from knowing the decision made by the Second Specialized Criminal Judge of Bogota, Nidia Angelica Carrero Torres regarding the request submitted by Emiro Rojas Granados, one of the main names at the other end of my story, to prohibit me from speaking, giving interviews, informing or attempting to write just 280 characters about my case.

Rojas Granados, a former DAS deputy director, under investigation due to my accusations that pointed to a cover-up that misled for four years the investigations into the killing of journalist Jaime Garzon Forero.

The investigation into Rojas Granados kicked off, thanks to my insistence to the prosecution.

It began a decade after an investigation had been initially ordered in March 2004 by the 7th Court in the Garzon case and very conveniently made no progress in that entity.

Rojas Granados is now facing accusations for criminal conspiracy and aggravated torture, crimes against humanity committed against me. Rojas Granados insists on silencing me.

It was not enough for Rojas Granados to file a bogus lawsuit for libel and slander (This occurred in 2005 when he also requested to the prosecutor to prohibit me from publishing a book on Jaime Garzon), the threats, torture and how he changed the entire course of my life.

Now, he wants to force me to remain silent on what occurs at court and silence my opinions concerning the hearings.

Before I am silenced it is paramount to remember that the main attorney of Emiro Rojas is Jorge Humberto Vaca Mendez. In August of 1999, Vaca Mendez was the Sectional Director of the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI).

To this day no one has been made responsible for the disappearance of key evidence that could have solved the killing of Jaime Garzon (such as the surveillance video from stores close to the location where the crime took place) nor tampering of the crime scene.

Judge Carrero seems upset at my statements that point to the impunity in my case and question the decision to grant the release of 3 of the 4 detainees due to the expiration of terms given the procedural inactivity under her watch.

Judge Carrero said at the end of the July 3 hearing that she would be delighted to not have to deal with my case, “for several reasons”. Yesterday during the hearing against another accused William Merchan, it became evident the judge was upset with me.

This is the situation I find myself in as I await her decision that will not only impact me personally and professionally but also puts at risk the rights of all victims facing criminal trials.

They are not satisfied with what they have done to us. Now, they also want to make sure that we cannot accuse them publicly.

Since 2018, the prosecutor in my case Gilma Amparo Duarte has been making decisions against me that cause further victimization (last July Duarte ordered to submit my medical history to determine if I was insane before or after torture), requested to investigate my opinions to determine if they violate the rights of the accused or others involved in the trial.

This absurdity can only be understood from the cowardice of a justice system that insists on secrecy as a way to impose determinations that are against the law and against rights and that need silence to be legitimized.

Why would Judge Carrero Torres prohibit a victim from speaking about their case?

Perhaps the judge will decide to prohibit photographs from being taken within the courtroom and will ban cellphones based upon the communication from the Judicial Council issued to keep order during hearings.

This communication has been used to censor journalists since 2005 although authorities cannot limit constitutional rights through administrative actions.

There is also Law 600 that covers the process against DAS and it leaves very few options for such a decision.

In my case, there are no minors as victims, no sexual violence, no witnesses that may be subject to threats (if you leave me out that is). I know plenty about threats and harassment.

There may be a possibility that the judge determines that the hearings be under reservation considering national security. However, it is hard to believe a judge would dare to use the words torture and national security in the same sentence.

Whatever the decision may be, I will continue speaking. I will continue knocking. Just like that poem of Benedetti: “knock and knock until nobody can keep acting like they can’t hear you.”

Bogota, July 25, 2019

Claudia Julieta Duque Orrego is a Colombian journalist and human rights defender. She currently works for Radio Nizkor Correspondent, Team Nizkor Rep in Colombia

***The article was translated by Karen Cepeda***