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Colombia: Harassment of Claudia Julieta Duque and her lawyer as DAS trial approaches

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Journalist and human rights defender Ms Claudia Julieta Duque has been subjected to intensifying levels of intimidation and harassment in advance of the trial that began on 24 June 2015 in her case against members of the now dissolved Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS (Administrative Department of Security). Former high-ranking members of the DAS will stand trial accused of the aggravated psychological torture of the human rights defender.

Claudia Julieta Duque is a journalist and works as a correspondent with the human rights organisation Equipo Nizkor and Radio Nizkor in Colombia. She has reported on human rights violations such as forced disappearances, forced recruitment of children into state and non-state armed groups, killings and impunity, as well as the infiltration of paramilitary groups in government agencies. She is a former member of the Federación Colombiana de Periodistas – Fecolper (Colombian Federation of Journalists) and of the directive board of the Unión de Periodistas de Bogotá – UPB (Journalists Union of Bogotá). She is an honorary member of the National Union of Journalists of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and has received the Reporters Without Borders Sweden Press Freedom Award, the International Women's Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and the Ilaria Alpi Courage Award. In 2011 Newsweek ranked her one of the ten women journalists most at risk for the sake of journalism and the Daily Beast named her one of the 150 outstanding women around the globe. In 2014 Reporters Without Borders named her as one of the “100 Information Heroes”.

In the most recent act of intimidation, on 16 June 2015, the car in which Claudia Julieta Duque travelled was followed by a motorcycle and a taxi in the vicinity of the Specialised Penal Courts in Bogotá. The surveillance of the human rights defender ended only when the motorcyclist realised that Claudia Julieta Duque was being accompanied by members of the Peace Brigades International (PBI). The harassment comes in the context of information received by Claudia Julieta Duque of a direct attack planned against her. The attack has reportedly been planned in response to the State Attorney General's activation of new investigations into the murder of the journalist Mr Jaime Garzón. Claudia Julieta Duque has been reporting on the journalist's murder since 2001, including the role of high ranking members of the DAS in his killing. The development in the case stems from Claudia Julieta Duque's finding that formal investigations of the role of the DAS in the killing were never carried out.

Furthermore, over the last number of days the family of Mr Victor Velasquez, lawyer for the journalist, has been subjected to threatening phone calls in which the unidentified speaker makes reference to previous threatening and intimidatory messages that were received in April 2014 and repeated in January 2015.

In March and January 2015, the human rights defender and her lawyer were followed by unknown persons in various parts of Bogotá. In December 2014, Claudia Julieta Duque and her daughter received a phone call from a man falsely claiming to be from the National Protection Unit (UNP), through which the human rights defender and her family are provided with protective measures. The caller displayed full knowledge of the details of the security plan put in place by the UNP to protect the family.

Claudia Julieta Duque has been the target of intimidation, harassment, threats and surveillance since 2001, and the beginning of her research and reporting on the murder of Jaime Garzón, which took place in 1999. She has been a victim of kidnapping, murder attempts, multiple death threats forcing her into exile, and constant illegal surveillance, intimidation and psychological harassment, including the targeting of her daughter, at the hands of state security services, including the DAS.

On 24 June 2015 the trial will open against José Miguel Narváez, former deputy director of the DAS and director of its special G-3 intelligence unit, as well as Giancarlo Auqué de Silvestri and Enrique Alberto Ariza Rivas, both former intelligence directors of the State body, who are accused of the aggravated psychological torture of Claudia Julieta Duque.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the most recent threats and harassment faced by Claudia Julieta Duque, and the heightened risk she faces in the context of the upcoming opening of proceedings in her case against former members of the DAS, as it believes that the acts of intimidation carried out against her stem from a desire to silence her voice as a human rights journalist.

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