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Seven former DAS officers charged with torture of Colombian NUJ journalist

Seven former officers of Colombia's security services each face up to 20 years in prison for the aggravated 'psychological torture' and physical intimidation of journalist and NUJ honorary member Claudia Julieta Duque. Five of the officers are currently in detention and two are fugitives.

The country's human rights prosecutor ordered the arrests after concluding that a group of former officials, members of the now disbanded DAS intelligence services, had been responsible for subjecting the award-winning journalist to years of illegal monitoring, surveillance, interception of emails, threats and harassment.

It is the first time that a charge of 'psychological torture' has been considered in Colombia and is the culmination of years of campaigning by Claudia Julieta and human rights activists all over the world.

Among those facing charges are the former deputy director general of the service, three former heads of intelligence, one former head of counter-intelligence, one former chief of operations and one former chief of technological intelligence. Each faces between eight and 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Between 2001 and 2008, Claudia Julieta was subjected to systematic intimidation amounting to attempted 'moral annihilation' of the journalist, according to the prosecutor.

The seven officers are charged with torture inflicted during 2003 and 2004 and the threats began after Claudia Julieta exposed irregularities in the investigation into the murder of journalist Jaime Garzon.

Over a period of several years, she was subjected to abusive phone calls threatening the life of her daughter. One caller told her "your daughter is going to suffer, we will burn her alive, we will spread her fingers throughout the house."

In 2001, Claudia Julieta Duque was kidnapped. In 2004, she suffered an attempted 'disappearance'. She later uncovered an instruction manual published by the DAS setting out in detail how to intimidate and frighten her and how to rape her daughter.

When presenting his evidence, the prosecutor said the systematic abuse was designed to morally and psychologically undermine a human rights defender and a journalist who was critical of the government of the day.

Claudia Julieta Duque said: "This decision at last opens up the possibility of achieving some justice and of the recognition that my allegations over so many years were true, that I was a victim of systematic abuse that went beyond mere threats. It was a crime of torture aimed at silencing a journalist and neutralising a human rights defender.

"The decision vindicates me and all those - family and colleagues - who suffered as a result of this persecution for the cause of truth, human rights and free expression.

"I am grateful for the loyalty of those who have lived with this for many years. Today's decision is a step towards a justice which for years has been absent."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary said: "The NUJ is pleased that Claudia Julieta may now achieve justice. The violent threats she faced were both vicious and abhorrent.

"We heard from Claudia Julieta at the 2011 NUJ conference, she warned delegates that UK government funds were being used to finance a unit of her country's secret security police.

"Claudia Julieta's activities as a journalist resulted in her being kidnapped and forced to flee the country three times.

"She has faced continual threats, intimidation and harassment at the hands of the Colombian security service.

"Despite exceptional challenges, she has refused to be intimidated or stop her work.

"We continue to be inspired by Claudia Julieta's courage and determination."

London, 14 March 2013
National Union of Journalists

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