Case History: Claudia Julieta Duque
The human rights defender has been the target of intimidation, harassment, threats and surveillance since 2001, when she began investigating into the murder of fellow journalist Jaime Garzón and she found out that agents of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) were involved in a cover-up. For security reasons, Claudia Julieta Duque was forced to leave the country on several occasions.
Claudia Julieta Duque is an investigative journalist and works as a correspondent with Radio Nizkor in Colombia. During her career as a journalist, she has investigated on numerous high-profile cases, including those involving issues of forced disappearance, forced recruitment of children by legal and illegal armed groups, the impact of impunity and the right to justice, and infiltration of paramilitary groups in government agencies.
In November 2016, a prosecutor of the Analysis and Context Division ordered the arrest of former DAS (the Colombian Security Service agency) Deputy Director, Emiro Rojas Granados, and former DAS Intelligence Detective, Nestor Pachon Bermudez. Both were arrested on charges of psychological torture against human rights defender and journalist Claudia Julieta Duque.
Following her investigation into the murder of Jaime Garzón Forero, a journalist killed in 1999, Claudia Julieta Duque was subjected to death threats, kidnappings, illegal surveillance, smear campaigns and stigmatisation. The intimidation and harassment have increased since March 2013, when her case against DAS officials, regarding psychological torture against her, was made public.
After being postponed several times, the trial reopened on 1 March 2016, when Claudia Julieta Duque testified against three members of DAS, who are accused of having tortured her psychologically. This case marked a milestone in the fight against impunity in Colombia, amidst serious human rights violations committed by state institutions. This is the first case in the world where the criminal justice system has succeeded in identifying the alleged perpetrators who are responsible for the crime of psychological torture.
According to Claudia Julieta Duque, the arrest of Emiro Rojas Granados and Nestor Pachon Bermudeza is "a significant step against impunity, perhaps the most significant of all". Rojas Granados is one of the people responsible for misleading the investigation into the murder of journalist Jaime Garzon; he had sued the human rights defender for libel and slander because of her journalistic investigations. Pachon Bermudeza participated in the illegal surveillance against Claudia Julieta Duque in 2001 and he was driving the DAS vehicle identified during the illegal surveillance operations, when the defender was kidnapped.
Front Line Defenders has received worrying reports of continued acts of intimidation and harassment against Ms Claudia Julieta Duque and her family, including the targeting of her daughter.
Over the period of the last two months Claudia Duque and her family have been subjected to a number of serious acts of intimidation and attempted attacks against them. This occurs in the context of the beginning of the trial against three former high-ranking officers of the now dismantled Colombia secret service (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS), accused of being the authors of the aggravated psychological torture that the journalist faced between 2001 and 2004, following her investigations into the killing of journalist and humourist Jaime Garzón.
On 4 August 2015, at 4:00 pm, Claudia Duque was conducting an interview with a magistrate of the Superior Court of Bogotá when she noticed an unknown male taking photographs of her. The man was walking around the area where the meeting was taking place and at one point approached the two women and asked if they were waiting for someone else as he was supposed to meet someone there. At that point he left, but two hours later, when the interview had concluded, Claudia Duque saw him sitting outside a restaurant just beside where they had been. She took a photograph of the man without him noticing and informed the magistrate that he was indeed still there. The magistrate sent her bodyguard to observe the man and at 7:00 pm she informed Claudia Duque that the man was still there, and appeared to be waiting to see the journalist leave. The magistrate reported this to the police who sent officers to question the man. The man gave another reason for being in the area and claimed to not be carrying his identification documents, before finally presenting his national identity card. Claudia Duque reported the incident to the Attorney General's office and provided the photos she had taken, in which it could be seen that the man appeared to be carrying a gun.
On 30 July 2015, as Claudia Duque and her daughter were carrying out errands at a commercial centre they became aware of the fact that they were being followed by a man who then joined the same checkout queue as them, despite not actually purchasing anything in the store. The man left when the journalist's daughter pointed him out.
On 29 July 2015, Claudia Duque's daughter returned home in Bogotá and discovered that unknown individuals had attempted to break into their home, forcing the lock and the hinges on the armoured security door. The journalist has security cameras at her home but the video recordings last 8 hours, after which the video starts a new recording on the same DVD. As Claudia Duque was travelling at the time and was away for a number of days, the recording of the incident had been copied over.
While the journalist was away her daughter also reported to her that she had received phone calls on the home land line in which the caller claimed to be from the gas company and trying to schedule a technical visit. Claudia Duque instructed her daughter not to receive anyone while she was away and later she called the company to check this information. The gas company informed her that they had not ordered any technical visits there.
Previously, on 22 July 2015 the parents of the human rights defender received several phone calls made from her daughter's Colombian mobile phone number, despite the fact that she was at that time on a flight, with the phone in her possession but turned off. The following day, after arriving in Bogotá, Claudia Duque's daughter was photographed by an unknown man in the vicinity of her home.
The harassment and intimidation suffered by the human rights defender and her family are linked to the work the journalist has conducted by researching and reporting on the murder of Jaime Garzón, which took place in 1999. Since 2001, Claudia Julieta Duque and her family have been subjected to psychological torture through intimidation, harassment, threats and surveillance and the human rights defender herself has been a victim of kidnapping, murder attempts and multiple death threats forcing her into exile on more than one occasion.
The intimidation and harassment have increased since 12 March 2013 when her case against officials of the now disbanded DAS, regarding psychological torture against her, was made public. The trial was postponed on two occasions and each time a new trial date was set Claudia Duque would be subjected to intensifying levels of intimidation and harassment in advance of the hearing. The trial was first postponed on 27 April 2015 and again on 24 June 2015. The first hearing finally took place on 6 July 2015 but was suspended until 22 July 2015, at which point it was suspended again while the judge makes a decision on evidence and testimonies requested for the trial. The next scheduled hearing is on 31 August 2015.
Front Line Defenders has received reports of judicial obstruction in the trial against members of the now-disbanded Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS (Administrative Department of Security) accused of psychologically torturing journalist and human rights defender Ms Claudia Julieta Duque.
The accused are the former deputy head of the DAS José Miguel Narváez, and two other former intelligence chiefs. The hearing scheduled to begin on 24 June 2015 was postponed until 6 July 2015 due to the absence of the three defendants. Reportedly, the Instituto Nacional Penitenciario y Carcelario – INPEC (National Penitentiary and Prison Institute) failed to bring José Miguel Narváez to court for reasons which remain unclear, while the two other defendants are currently on a police wanted list, one having been released in an 'irregular manner in January 2015 and the other who has been a fugitive since 2013.
This is the second postponement faced in the trial. The trial was first postponed on 27 April 2015 as a result of an administrative oversight. In June 2014, Radio Nikzor, revealed that all of the electronic files relating to intelligence, counter-intelligence and reserved expenses in DAS over the 40 years of its existence had allegedly disappeared. Moreover, from January to March 2015, Claudia Duque has been subjected to intensifying levels of intimidation and harassment in advance of the trial.
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 will open 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.
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.
On 12 April 2013, the daughter of human rights defender Ms Claudia Julieta Duque was photographed by an unknown man in the vicinity of her father's home. The man took a photograph of her up close and she managed to get a photograph of him from the back as he rapidly retreated. Previously on 10 April 2013, she was photographed whilst she was with her boyfriend, again in the vicinity of her father's house.
These incidents are the latest in a campaign of intimidation and harassment directed against the human rights defender since 12 March 2013 when her case against seven officials of the now disbanded Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS (Administrative Security Department), regarding psychological torture against her, was made public.
On the morning of 13 March 2013, her brother received a call on one of the phones provided to the human rights defender as part of her security detail, from a man who identified himself as Elkin Perdomo from the Unidad Nacional de Protección – UNP (National Protection Unit). The man asked for her telephone number and address, and said that it was related to the elaboration of a new security study. However, this study is due to be carried out in June and Claudia Julieta Duque is in direct contact with the people who are running the study.
The same day, at approximately 12:30pm, the human rights defender was in the hairdressers when she realised she was being watched by an unknown man in a taxi. She was observed for forty minutes before the police arrived, at which point the man left.
On 15 and 16 March 2013, Claudia Julieta Duque received two files to her computer from the same email address (porladignidadmilitar@...). Both were executable files, which led the human rights defender to believe that they were viruses, and to delete them. The human rights defender mentioned this a number of times on the phone on 17 March 2013, as she is aware her phone is tapped, and received no more files of this type.
That night, Claudia Julieta Duque's daughter noticed a taxi, hidden from view of their apartment's security camera, from which the driver was observing their home for more than one hour. Some days later, on 21 March 2013, at approximately 11am, a Police Superintendent claiming to be from the Human Rights Directorate arrived at the human rights defender's home. He claimed to know that she had been granted security measures by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights since 2008, when in fact it is since November 2009, and wished to enquire whether the police were offering her sufficient protection.
Claudia Julieta Duque found it strange to be asked about this in such a casual manner and so she did not let the man enter but rather spoke to him via the intercom. She asked for a telephone number at which she could contact him but he did not comply with this request.
In March 2013 Front Line Defenders received a letter from Claudia Julieta Duque describing her feelings of 'vindication' after the arrest was ordered of seven former members of the disbanded Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad ( Administrative Department of Security DAS).
The men are accused of “psychological torture” of the human rights defender and her family. The full text of her message can be found below:
Seven former officers of Colombia's security services each face up to 20 years in prison for their role in the aggravated "psychological torture" and physical intimidation against me.
The arrest was ordered on March 10 of a group of former officials of the now-disbanded DAS intelligence services after concluding they had been responsible for subjecting me and my family to years of illegal monitoring, surveillance, interception of emails, threats and harassment.
It is the first time ever a charge of "psychological torture" has been considered in Colombia and is the culmination of years of campaigning not only by me but by human rights activists (among them most of you) 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 chiefs of operations and one former chief of the technological intelligence area. Each faces between eight and 20 years in prison if found guilty.
Between 2001 and 2008 I spoke out about how I was subjected to systematic intimidation amounting to attempted "moral annihilation", according to the prosecutor. However, the five detained and the two fugitives are only charged with the torture inflicted during the years 2003 and 2004.
As you will remember, over a period of several years I was subjected to abusive phone calls threatening the life of my daughter - one caller told me "your daughter is going to suffer, we will burn her alive, we will spread her fingers throughout the house. " In 2001 I was kidnapped and in 2004 I suffered an attempt to disappear me. I later uncovered an instruction manual published by the DAS setting out in detail how to intimidate and frighten me and to rape my daughter.
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".
This decision at last opens up the possibility of achieving some justice and the recognition that my allegations over so many years were true, that I was a victim of systematic abuse which 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. This is a step towards a justice which for years has been absent.
I am aware that without your strong support, I would probably not have survived in Colombia nor in the exile or in the years after. Many thanks to all of you for keeping me alive to cherish the idea of the justice in my case.
In September 2011 Claudia Julieta Duque was informed by reliable sources that the Military Intelligence Department had issued orders to carry out an attack against her person. On 22 August 2011 former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez accused Claudia Julieta Duque and Mr Juan Forero, Andean region correspondent for the Washington Post, of being terrorist sympathizers and accomplices of leftist guerrillas. The baseless accusation followed the publication on 21 August 2011 of an article in the Washington Post, co-authored by the two journalists, that alleged that President Uribe may have been involved in illegal actions using the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad - DAS (Administrative Security Department), with the help of the United States.
Claudia Julieta Duque has been publicly branded an “extreme left activist” while other social networks have claimed that her articles were written by the secretary of the FARC. A memorandum was circulated some time ago calling for the psychological torture of both Claudia Julieta Duque and her daughter.
On 16 October 2009, at approximately 12.30 pm, six individuals entered the residential complex where Claudia Julieta Duque lives. Three of them remained in the building entrance while three others went to her apartment entrance. Security videos show the four others who waited outside with four vehicles. Security tapes show one woman leaving the complex at 12.26pm: there was no video footage of the woman entering the building between 10:00 am and the time she left so it is believed that she may have been inside the building for more than two hours.
Claudia Julieta Duque's dog was alerted to the fact that a man and a woman were at the apartment looking under the door. Another woman was watching from below. Claudia Julieta Duque's brother, who happened to be in the apartment at the time, heard the dog barking and looked out. When the individuals realised he was present, they left the complex' corridor but did not immediately leave the building. Her brother called the complex security guard and told him what was happening, and he replied that he would call someone. Her brother later called the guard a second and a third time to tell him that the individuals had split up from each other, and were on their way past the security desk. When they eventually left the building some minutes later, the guard allowed them to leave without questioning them.
In the security videos two other women and another man are seen entering and leaving the building. Thereafter all the individuals can be seen swapping between the four cars which had been outside the complex since 12.30 pm. In addition, the security camera on Claudia Julieta Duque's building was damaged the previous day, while the camera inside at the security desk had stopped working at 10.31 that morning. Claudia Julieta Duque’s mobile was blocked from 12 until 7pm that evening. Claudia Julieta Duque has given a copy of the security camera tapes to Dr Christian Salazar in the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in Colombia. She also phoned the Ministry of the Interior's emergency phone line to report the incident but has received no response to date.
This latest incident follows a series of suspicious phone calls to members of Claudia Julieta Duque's family enquiring after the journalist's whereabouts.
Furthermore, between July and September 2009 Claudia Julieta Duque was followed on more than one occasion. On 24 July during a visit to Pereira, she was followed from Cajamarca to Armenia by a red motorcycle GS 500. Although she varied her speed, overtaking cars and then allowing cars to overtake her, the motorcycle followed her consistently. It left once she took photos of it and the driver on her mobile phone. On 6 and 11 August she was followed by a white vehicle. Upon verification, the registration plates are logged as belonging to a red vehicle so that it is believed that vehicles following her may use false registration plates.
It is believed that this intimidation is linked to the interrogation of Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) officials for a second time in relation to a criminal investigation into threats against Claudia Julieta Duque. In addition, it is thought that calls have been made to her family because a 2004 report written by the DAS, the Colombian secret police, directly attached to the Presidency, stated that intelligence was certain that Claudia Julieta Duque does not answer telephone calls any more due to the constant death threats and intimidations she received at that time (“se ha establecido mediante labores de inteligencia técnica que Claudia Julieta Duque ya no contesta llamadas telefónicas”). Front Line previously reported on intimidation and harassment of Claudia Julieta Duque on 7 July 2009.
On 30 June 2009, shortly before 7.30 pm, a man with an accent from Bogotá who introduced himself as Luis, called at the home of Claudia Duque's parents in the town of Pereira and asked to speak with Claudia Duque's 15-year old daughter.
The man called Claudia Duque's daughter by her first name, and asked repeatedly where he could find her, saying he needed to reach her urgently. During the same day, similar calls were made to Claudia Duque's home. During one of these calls, Claudia Duque's daughter, who answered the phone, was questioned for several minutes by an unknown person. When her mother took the phone to see who was on the other end, the call was suddenly interrupted.
In the morning of the same day, Claudia Duque noticed a taxi following her from Bogotá city centre to the Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca, where she was going in order to inquire about a complaint she had filed against the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS (Administrative Department for Security), the Ministry of Interior and the National Police.
The complaint referred to the failure by DAS, the Ministry of Interior and the National Police to comply with the Constitutional Court's order of 23 October 2008 which, inter alia, requested DAS to release all information illegally gathered on Claudia Duque since 2001. The Constitutional Court's order followed a legal action filed by Claudia Duque after the DAS and the Ministry of Interior excluded her from the Protection Programme on the basis of spurious arguments.
Additionally, in the context of the Claudia Duque’s criminal case, investigated by the Attorney General for threats and psychological torture she suffered since the surveillance and intimidation against her started in 2001, last week the Office of the Attorney General started interrogating DAS officers. It is believed that the events that occurred on 30 June are aimed at intimidating Claudia Duque and are directly linked to the pending legal proceedings.
Over the course of the years, the Government has at times granted protection to Claudia Duque, including the use of an armoured car. This, however, has been insufficient to ensure full protection of her life and that of her family members and she has at times been forced to go temporarily into exile.