28 years for journo's killing

2009-01-23 18:18

Bogota - A Colombian judge has sentenced a former mayor to 28 years in prison for ordering the April 2003 killing of a journalist who had repeatedly denounced the politician as corrupt.

It was the first time the mastermind of a journalist's killing in Colombia had been convicted and imprisoned since 1992, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said.

Julio Cesar Ardila was among three men convicted in the murder of Jose Emeterio Rivas of the local radio station "Calor Estereo", who was shot to death in the steamy refinery city of Barrancabermeja on Colombia's main river, the Magdalena.

The sentence, handed down by judge Nelly Vallejo in the regional capital of Bucaramanga on January 13, only came to light on Thursday after the InterAmerican Press Association's president, Enrique Santos, publicised it.

Santos, co-publisher of Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper, noted how rare it is in Colombia for the mastermind of a journalist's killing to be brought to justice.

In the past 15 years, 57 journalists have been killed in Colombia while exercising their profession, according to the IAPA, with more than 70% of those killings going unpunished. Colombia has the highest rate of unsolved murders per capita in the Americas, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.

Ardila, Barrancabermeja's mayor from 2000-2003, was arrested last year.

Rivas had accused him not just of corruption but also of ties to far-right militias of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, death squads that killed scores in the city as they rid it of alleged guerrilla sympathisers.

The key witness was a demobilised paramilitary gunman, Rayner Enrique Brokate, who said he was present when Ardila and the two other convicted men agreed to pay militia leaders about $68 000 to kill the reporter.

The judge's sentence, which was obtained by The Associated Press, did not indicate whether the money was paid.

A day before he was killed, Rivas called Ardila "a plunderer" in a television appearance, according to the sentence.

- AP

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