July 1, 2011
The human face of solidarity
On my recent visit to Colombia I visited Colombian trade unionist Liliany Obando. She has been held at the Buen Pastor Women's Prison in Bogota for almost three years.
The visit is grueling; arriving to line up for the visit at 7 am is not early enough. It took four hours of processing before I saw Liliany through the window in Yard 6. People I met in the queue waiting to get a number told me they sometimes spend the night outside to get one of the first places.
Getting the number is just one step, many check points follow. You are searched by dogs and questioned; if you bring food stuffs it must be searched thoroughly. You are weighed, pass through the metal detector and take your shoes off before passing to a small room where you are searched again. Finally you are asked who you are visiting. Liliany is in the 6th yard where political prisoners are held. When they learn that a whole new round of processing begins.
After a not so pleasant search, ID or passport and two finger prints are taken. The food is returned and you are walked to another building where another finger print is taken. At each of these checks your arm is stamped; you end up with an armful.
There is still another metal detector and search before getting to the door of Yard 6. Again you are asked to give your ID, name and address. Finally the prisoner who has been waiting since 8 am gets to see their visitor.
Liliany was charged with one count of rebellion and one count of fundraising for a terrorist organisation. Rebellion is a "catch all" charge aimed at the political opposition, trade union and human rights activists. Under normal circumstances Liliany and other political prisoners charged with rebellion have their cases quashed due to irregularities in due process including the use of fabricated evidence. However, because the latter charge must be heard by a specialised anti‑terrorist judge Liliany's charges come under a much more complex process and the judge has greater leeway in imposing harsher sentences up to 40 years.
Liliany's case is one of up to nine cases that emerged after computers were seized in an illegal incursion into Ecuador in which FARC (popular resistance movement) commander Raul Reyes was assassinated with 25 others. The tragic event of March 1 2008 resulted in a number of personalities, parliamentarians, trade unionists and academics being named and charged using computer files taken from the FARC encampment as evidence.
On May 18, 2011 the Supreme Court made a critical finding in the trial of former parliamentarian Wilson Borja who was also charged with links to FARC. The judge found the computer files were obtained illegally; the army didn't follow correct procedure. Lawyers for Liliany believe she should also be immediately released.
Liliany and I spent three hours talking about her case and about international solidarity. She thanks the international solidarity movement for being instrumental in breaking the silence and providing a voice for the 7,500 political prisoners currently in detention so their stories can be taken beyond the walls.
The international community calls for respect for human rights in Colombia, the humane treatment of political prisoners and for a humanitarian exchange of prisoners of war. A humanitarian agreement will be a first step towards a political solution to the deep armed and social conflict. Recently, for the first time almost 50 years of armed conflict was recognised by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The recognition of the armed conflict and its causes is an important step towards the recognition of both the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army) as belligerent forces in the conflict and should lead to their removal from terrorist lists in Colombia, US and the European Union.
At 2:45 pm I heard the whistle that signals visits are over. It was time to line up to leave the premises by 3 pm.
Liliany thanks all those in Australia and around the world whose solidarity keeps her revolutionary spirit high. She looks forward to her freedom after already spending three years behind bars despite her innocence. These three years have left serious scars on the life of her loved ones. I also had the opportunity of spending a few lovely days with her mother and children. They welcome seeing a human face of solidarity and I value learning their story. Koalas and kangaroos are essential toys in that household.
For more information visit: www.inspp.org
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