Colombia: Official gets prison for spying on journalists 

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May 2, Bogotá: Colombia s Supreme Court sentenced Maria del Pilar Hurtado a former head of the country s secret police to 14 years in prison for spying on officials and journalists, she committed the offenses between 2007 and 2008, targeting political opponents of then-President Alvaro Uribe.
When the allegations surfaced in 2010, Hurtado sought asylum in Panama. Her asylum was later revoked and she turned herself in to Colombian authorities in January.
Hurtado, the former head of the government’s intelligence agency–the now-defunct Department of Administrative Security (DAS)–was sentenced to 14 years in prison following her conviction in February for unlawful violation of communications as well as falsification of public documents, criminal conspiracy, embezzlement by appropriation, abuse of authority, and other charges, according to news reports. Hurtado fled to Panama in 2010, but turned herself over to Panamanian authorities earlier this year after her political asylum was revoked. She was deported back to Colombia.

A number of human rights organizations, including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Oxfam Solidariteit, applauded the convictions, saying it confirms the existence of a system of espionage, persecution, harassment and threats against opponents, judges, journalists and human rights defenders, designed and organized at the highest levels of Alvaro Uribe Velez s government.

Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York “We are pleased that there is finally accountability for one of the worst institutional threats to press freedom in Colombia of the past decade,” and added  “Authorities must continue their investigations so that all those responsible are brought to justice and ensure that it never happens again.”

According to CPJ, the court said that both Hurtado and Moreno acted with the consent of Uribe, who served two presidential terms from 2002-2010. Uribe denied any knowledge of the spying ring and tweeted Thursday that he was “saddened” by the conviction of honorable officials whose only crime was defending Colombia‘s national security. Despite a series of scandals at the end of his presidency, Uribe remains widely influential and is now a senator.

Geoffrey King, CPJ’s Internet advocacy coordinator, from New York told “Spying on the press violates one of the central precepts of journalism: that reporters will be able to protect their sources, particularly in an environment as risky as Colombia, which historically has been one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the region,” and further said. “The sentencing of Hurtado and Moreno sets an important precedent for leaders around the World who seek to snoop through journalists’ records with impunity.”

The Oslo Times welcomes the sentencing by the Colombian Supreme Court of two former senior government officials for their roles in an illegal surveillance program.                 The Oslo Times

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