In recent weeks, Facebook groups “inciting” killings in both Hong Kong and Colombia triggered police hunts for their creators. Both cases are bizarre, but as usual the Colombian case is the most ludicrous, demonstrating the travesty of Colombian justice, if not its government’s total abuse of power.
In Hong Kong, the Facebook group was called, “I have to practise suicide”. It had 188 members who pledged to kill themselves on December 21. In early November a secondary school boy, who was member of the group, attempted to jump off the rooftop of his school. Two weeks later the Hong Kong Commercial Crime Bureau’s Technology Crime Division was hunting down all the group members, intending to refer them to social workers. Ironically, this could be more detrimental to the kids since social workers in Hong Kong “are so stressed by work that instead of wanting to help their clients, they feel like causing them emotional pain.”
In Colombia, news reports in early July publicized a Facebook group called, “I promise to kill Jeronimo Alberto Uribe, son of Alvaro Uribe.” Immediately the Technology Crime Division of the National Police, with help from the FBI, commenced a search for the group’s creator and its members. The authorities found that the group creator, Nicolas Castro, a 23 year-old university student with excellent grades, had sought information about the Colombian president on various occasions and had visited FARC-related websites. On December 4, Castro was arrested and sent to notorious La Picota prison, by ordered of an anti-terrorism prosecutor. Ironically, this could be more detrimental to the innocent youth since in La Picota he could learn from Colombia’s most blood-thirsty criminals: politicians with links to the paramilitaries, like the brother of Colombia’s Interior and Justice Minister, Fabio Valencia Cossio.
Despite the differences between the cases, it is evident that the Chinese authorities acted in accordance with society’s interests, unlike the Colombian authorities who only acted for the interests of the Uribe family.
Given that crime in Hong Kong is a relative rarity, authorities certainly have the time as well as responsibility to investigate any case, however trivial it may seem. Moreover, in a crowded place such as Hong Kong, it’s in society’s interest to stop 188 suicidal youths jumping off buildings. Furthermore, thanks to Hong Kong’s fine educational system, those 188 students jumping to their deaths would certainly result in a brain drain for the city.
To claim that the prosecution system in Colombia is overstretched is clearly an understatement. Therefore, tracking down a naïve university student with the help of the FBI because he publicly expressed his desire to murder one of the most guarded and infamous businesspersons is ludicrous to say the least. More ridiculous still is arresting him for seeking information on Uribe and the FARC. By that criteria Colombia Reports Editor-in-Chief, Adriaan Alsema, should be in jail for life.
If the Colombian authorities were actually responding justly to all threats emanating from the web they should have by now arrested the creators of dozens of Facebook groups threatening other public figures such as Piedad Cordoba, Bogota’s mayor Samuel Moreno, TV actress Ana Victoria Beltrán, journalist Daniel Coronell and even Shakira, among many others.
Moreover, if anyone is culpable of instigating killings, it’s the government. President Uribe’s statements denouncing public figures he dislikes automatically result in death threats, which are in many cases carried out. For instance, there are three Supreme Court magistrates on special protection, as requested by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, after Uribe’s public denunciations of their role in para-politics investigations affecting the government’s friends (and Uribe’s cousin).
The Colombian government interference in the justice system is not surprising. After all, the government sets free a sanguinary former guerrilla, Karina, and names her “promoter of peace” even after she had been sentenced to 33 years and 20 years in jail; the government has been an obstacle in the trial of the militaries behind extrajudicial killings; the government interfered in the trial of a colonel, Alfonso Plazas Vegas, accused of disappearing eleven victims of the Palace of Justice siege in 1985; the government appears to have framed Navy Admiral Gabriel Arango Bacci who was found innocent last week by the Supreme Court; the government has been derailing investigations on the DAS scandal. Yet, Nicolas Castro could receive between 6 to 13 years in prison for “instigating criminal violence”.
Recent acts by the government demonstrate the precarious state of the independence of justice in Colombia. Fortunately, last Monday, December 7, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of the Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque, arrived in Colombia to investigate the state of independence of the judiciary. As a result of the aforementioned episodes the report by the delectable Brazilian will be eagerly anticipated. But, as usual with this government, nothing will drastically change, just as nothing will change even by reverting to a Ministry solely focused on Justice, as was the case before Uribe merged it with the Interior Ministry.