Colombian minister issues apology after 2 days of deadly protests against police brutality

Colombia’s defence minister apologized on Friday on behalf of the police for the death of a man in custody that has sparked two nights of protests in the capital of Bogota and satellite city Soacha, leaving 13 dead and hundreds injured.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets for consecutive nights to protest the death on Wednesday of Javier Ordonez, 46. A widely shared video filmed by Ordonez’s friend showed the father of two being repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by police. He died later in hospital.

“The national police apologize for any violation of the law or ignorance of regulations by any members of the institution,” Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said in a video message. Colombia’s police force is overseen by the defence ministry.

The video of Ordonez shows him being pinned to the ground by police officers and subjected to successive electric shocks early on Wednesday as he begs, “Please, no more.”

Police said Ordonez was found drinking alcohol in the street with friends in violation of coronavirus distancing rules. He was taken to a police station in western Bogota, which has become a focal point of protests, and later died in hospital.

Two officers face charges

Two police officers implicated in Ordonez’s death face charges of abusing authority and homicide. They have already been suspended and will be fired from the force.

A further five officers have been suspended in connection with Ordonez’s death, Trujillo said.

Riot police take position with their shields painted by demonstrators during a Thursday protest against police brutality in the Colombian capital of Bogota. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Seven people between the ages of 17 and 27 died after being shot in Bogota during protests Wednesday, according to the mayor’s office, while the national government says three were killed the same night in Soacha.

Family members of some of the Bogota victims told local media their loved ones had not been participating in the protests.

Three further people died in connection with the protests on Thursday night, including a woman who was hit by a stolen public bus, officials said.

Hundreds injured in clashes

Hundreds of civilians have been injured during clashes between protesters and the police, with 73 wounded by gunshots in Bogota, according to local authorities. Just under 200 police officers have also been injured, according to the national government.

Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez said in a tweet that she will meet with President Ivan Duque and the inspector general — charged with investigating public officials — later on Friday. 

Demonstrators burn tires during a protest against police brutality in Medellin, Colombia, on Thursday. (Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 60 police stations have been affected by vandalism, the government said, as well as dozens of public transport vehicles.

Vandalism and attacks on infrastructure were due to “direct and systematic” actions with clear objectives, Trujillo said.

Ordonez’s death has fuelled renewed outrage against the police, who were widely criticized last year after a teenage protester was fatally injured by a riot squad projectile.