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Colombian journalist Claudia Julieta Duque faces adversity for her investigative reporting

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Claudia Julieta Duque. Photo by Peace Brigades International.

Colombian journalist Claudia Julieta Duque has faced danger many times to report on significant issues of public interest.

Notably, Duque and her daughter were targeted by Colombia's DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad) intelligence service beginning in 2001. That was when Duque was investigating the murder of journalist, comedian and peace activist Jaime Garzón who was shot to death in August 1999.

El Espectador explains (in Spanish), "Duque found clues that could link state agents to the crime. After her findings, she began to be intimidated, through threatening calls and funeral wreaths that arrived at her home, until she was kidnapped that year for a few hours."

Duque says, "I do not hesitate to call Jaime Garzon's assassination a state crime, not only because active, high-ranking members of the military took part, but because a strategy was devised around his death to let the case go unpunished, with the participation of members of the state security organizations."

It wasn't until August 2018 that José Miguel Narváez, a former top official with DAS, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for Garzón's murder.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has noted, "In its August 13 decision, the court said that Narváez was a constant presence in paramilitary camps and provided its troops with information on Garzón's daily movements, which allowed them to track and kill him."

On March 15 of this year, Time magazine named Duque one of the 10 journalists in the world facing the most urgent threats to press freedom.

That article noted, "Duque has endured kidnapping, illegal surveillance, psychological torture and repeated exiles as a result of her work."

Reporters Without Borders has highlighted, "After the DAS spied on her while pretending to protect her, she fled abroad from 2004 to 2006. Following her return, she and her 10-year-old daughter were the target of death threats in 2008, so she fled abroad again, returning later the same year."

Years passed until 2013 when the prosecutor's office finally issued a detention order against seven former DAS agents for the aggravated psychological torture of Duque.

The Irish group Front Line Defenders notes, "The intimidation and harassment [against Duque] have increased since March 2013, when her case against DAS officials, regarding psychological torture against her, was made public."

The Time magazine article adds, "Colombian courts convicted three high-ranking officers of the Colombian security services for torturing in 2003 and 2004 Claudia and her daughter. As of January 2019, all the defendants in the case were free."

El Espectador reported earlier this year that four of the DAS agents who had been charged with offences against Duque had been released because of an expiration of terms.

That said, the International Women's Media Foundation has also noted, "Much of the work she and others have done has begun to pay off."

It highlights that in 2009, "The Colombian newsweekly Semana published a story that Colombia's national intelligence service, the Administrative Department of Security, had carried out a spying operation from 2003 to 2009 on journalists, members of the opposition, Supreme Court justices, government officials, union leaders and international human rights groups."

Given the scandal, the DAS was dissolved in October 2011.

The International Women's Media Foundation has also highlighted that Duque has reported on "child trafficking, illegal adoptions and the infiltration of paramilitary groups into Colombian state institutions."

To hear Duque's recent reporting on the Ituango hydroelectric dam project currently under construction on the Cauca River near Ituango in Antioquia Department, please click here.

The Trudeau government -- through Export Development Canada which is wholly owned by the Government of Canada -- provided financing for the Ituango dam.

In April 2018, a landslide blocked a tunnel used to regulate water flow between the dam's spillway and the river. As a result, the river burst its banks destroying two bridges, two schools, a health clinic, and 59 homes leaving 600 people homeless. At least 24,000 people were displaced because of the risk of further flooding.

Two members of Movimiento Ríos Vivos Antioquia Colombia, an activist group fighting against the dam, were shot dead within a one-week period in May 2018, another opponent was killed, and many more have faced assassination attempts and threats.

Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project has accompanied Duque since 2010.

Of PBI, Duque says, "They are indispensable people who not only support you but accompany with respect and dedication for your struggles and with their company give you the strength to continue. Many of the things I do could not be done without PBI."

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo by Peace Brigades International.

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