Claudia Duque is a Colombian journalist and human rights defender that has paid a huge price for reporting in a country where, in spite of the recent peace process, the numbers of threats and attacks against the press are among the highest in the world, and where impunity remains in 98.81%, according her own investigations.
Duque knew that journalists were at risk in Colombia, of course. She had been following current affairs since she was a girl of 14 and thought she understood the risks. But like so many reporters, she wanted to observe history in the making, to live the politics first-hand and write about it.
I knew they assassinated journalists. Since the 1980s, there have been 140 journalists killed in Colombia. Clearly, I knew it was dangerous, yet I never expected to experience this en carne propia; in the flesh. I never thought I would be the victim of so many difficult situations.
Despite years of persecution for her brave and fearless work as an investigative journalist, Claudia Julieta Duque continues reporting and looking justice. Her investigations have been the cause to open legal cases against army members, political and judicial workers for their involvement in criminal actions. She has shed light on judicial setups, corruption espionage and criminal alliances between State agents with paramilitary groups, among other issues.
In her 26 years as a journalist, her reports, often controversial, have been met by denial, smear campaigns, all kinds of accusations against the journalist, silence from the other media organizations, as well as serious attacks and psychological torture. In 2018, she was the first journalist in highlighting the sexual harassment against reporters in Colombia and denounced a powerful former attorney general during the #MeToo wave.
Since 2001, she has suffered countless persecutions, ranging from kidnapping, multiple threats, illegal surveillance of her telephones and emails, access to her bank accounts and espionage of her and of her closest family members and childhood friends, as well as direct death and rape threats against her daughter in 2004, events that forced her to three exiles. This persecution was carried out by the now dismantled President’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS), due to Claudia’s investigation on the homicide of journalist Jaime Garzon (1999). In August 2018, thanks to her work, it was convicted the former DAS deputy director for Garzon’s murder.
From 2014 onwards, Colombian courts have convicted three high-ranking officers of the DAS, including an Intelligence director, for torturing Claudia and her daughter. Other eight are on trial and more are under investigation. It is the first time that a case of this nature achieves justice. In October 2017, the case was declared as a crime against humanity and since then it has been paralyzed. From December 2017 and January 2019, all the detainees in the case were released for expiration of terms without being sentenced.
And the threats continue: in March 2017 and January 2018, the armored car given by the Government to Claudia for granting her security, was attacked and partially damaged; in September 2018, she received a phone message with multiple shots from an automatic weapon, in moments that the Supreme Court of Justice ordered to investigate former President Alvaro Uribe (now Congressman) for the DAS espionage, based on her testimony. Uribe reacted renewing his attacks against Claudia, calling her “terrorism sympathizer”. Additionally, during last years, Claudia has received an amount of death threats and insults in the Twitter social network, using gender stereotypes to discredit her work and undermine the legitimacy of her testimony as protagonist in her own case.
Additionally, her involvement in other journalistic investigations on sensitive issues, made her subject of new threats and attacks. However, Claudia continues to be an unstoppable force in journalism and in the progress of her own case. Without her determination, conviction and professionalism, the many forces against her would have been enough to silence, and with her a reality that it is not reported for most of the media outlets in her country.
In 2010 Duque was named honorary member of the UK National Union of Journalists and received the RSF-Sweden Press Freedom Award, the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award and the Ilaria Alpi Foundation in Italy. 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 Duque was named as one of the RSF’ 100 world information heroes and received a recognition from the Colombian Office of UNHCHR and the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) for her work against impunity in the Jaime Garzon’s case. In 2016, she was one of the three finalists of the Most Resilient Journalist Award, granted by Free Press Unlimited. In 2017, both the Latin American and the Colombian Federations of Journalists granted her with a special recognition for her bravery in the fight for justice.
- Courage in Journalism Awards , 2010