Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of Orlando Sierra Hernández

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    June 24, 2015
  • Outcome
    Imprisonment, Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Colombia, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Press Freedom, Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
  • Tags
    Corruption, Public Officials

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This case is available in additional languages:    View in: Español

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Criminal Chamber of the Manizales Superior Tribunal convicted political boss Francisco Ferney Tapasco Gonzalez—in addition to all the other co-conspirators and principals—as the mastermind of the homicide of journalist Orlando Sierra Hernández 13 years after the crime.


Orlando Sierra Hernández was a columnist and deputy editor of the newspaper La Patria. Hernández regularly investigated and reported on matters of corruption and the abuse of power committed by authorities in the city of Manizales and the Caldas province, including the actions of political boss Francisco Ferney Tapasco Gonzalez. After receiving several threats and engaging in a political war with Tapasco Gonzalez, who had been discharged of his post but still held political power with hopes of introducing his son to politics, Hernández was murdered by a hitman.

The investigation into the homicide of Hernández began immediately after the assassination in 2002. The main perpetrator was identified as Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, who was sentenced to serve 19 years in prison. Additionally, Francisco Antonio Quintero Tabares (aka Tilín) and Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco (aka Pereque) were identified as joint perpetrators in the crime and sentenced to 28 years imprisonment.

After the initial convictions of these individuals and due to the perseverance of the journalistic community to prosecute all those involved in the matter, testimonial proof led prosecutors to present charges against Tapasco Gonzalez as the mastermind of the aggravated homicide. Furthermore, Tapasco Gonzalez’s associates Fabio López Escobar, Jorge Hernando López Escobar, and Henry Calle Obando, were identified as co-conspirators, their crimes falling under Article 104 (10) of Colombia’s Penal Code.

Decision Overview

Judge Antonio Toro Ruiz delivered the opinion of the Superior Tribunal of Manizales. The case before Superior Tribunal was an appeal of the acquittal of former politician Francisco Ferney Tapasco Gonzalez as the mastermind of the homicide which resulted in the death of Orlando Sierra.

The Tribunal considered the aggravating circumstance under article 104 (10) of the Penal Code of homicide against a journalist. The Tribunal also acknowledged that according to witness testimonies journalist Orlando Sierra feared for his life because of what he wrote against Tapasco Gonzalez. Sierra had been concerned that exercising his right to freedom of expression could result in his death. [p. 21]

After Tapasco Gonzalez and the others were acquitted in the court of first instance, the Superior Tribunal found that the testimonies presented gave sufficient proof to convict Tapasco Gonzalez as the mastermind of the crime and the López Escobar brothers as necessary accessories. Judge Toro Ruiz established that Tapasco’s motive to order the assassination of Orlando Sierra was Sierra’s critical views of his politics, which were frequently published in La Patria. [p. 24] Judge Toro Ruiz also asserted that the testimonies presented in the court of first instance established that Tapasco had motive to order the assassination of Sierra because he wanted to prevent Sierra from publishing further columns that questioned his “political power, his political authority and his leadership.” [p. 24]

The defendants argued that the testimonies relied upon were mere secondhand accounts. However, the Tribunal held that after careful analysis of the testimonies and the secrecy that illegal enterprises of this nature present, these testimonies were sufficient to convict the defendants.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision expands freedom of expression because after 13 years of impunity and in an unprecedented manner, all intellectual and material conspirators in the killing of a journalist were convicted. This encourages the security, and in turn freedom of expression of the speakers striving for transparency and democracy in Colombia and abroad.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Superior Tribunals in Colombia hear appeals from and supervise the lower courts in the district.

Official Case Documents

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