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Issue #1652      August 20, 2014

Liliany Obando – “My only crime is belonging to the Colombian left-wing”

From her latest prison cell, the human rights defender and political prisoner Liliany Obando offers a personal account of her most recent arrest.

Six years after being the first person linked to the so called “FARCPOLITICA” trial, I am now writing about my experience from an isolated and cold cell in the defunct Administrative Department for Security (DAS) in Bogotá.

Liliany Obando.

Paradoxically, at the same time sinister leaders of the Colombian paramilitary, responsible for hundreds of deaths and massacres, for plundering simple families and creating widows and orphans, are now regaining their freedom after just eight years in prison. All thanks to ex-president Uribe’s benevolent peace processes with the paramilitary forces.

It doesn’t make sense that a mother with underage children in her care, known for her work in defending human rights, with professional qualifications and verifiable experience, should be serving an unjust sentence which would be better suited to people such as these. My only crime is to have belonged to the Colombian left-wing from a young age, having survived the genocide of the Patriotic Union, and having remained committed to human rights and the defence of the right to critical thought, freedom of thought, social justice and peace.

Today marks six years since this nightmare began, when a criminal investigation ostentatiously linked me to the “FARCPOLITICA” case. Heavily armed men, agents from the national police, surrounded and broke into my house with an arrest warrant and tore me away from my young children, from my elderly mother, from my university, my work, and my life plans.

Operation Fenix – the beginning

It was also six years ago, on the March 1, 2008, that Operation Fenix was carried out in the province of Sucumbios, Ecuador, when the FARC’s second in command, Raul Reyes, died along with 26 others including students from the University of Mexico, an Ecuadorian citizen, and a number of guerrillas. Operation Fenix was coordinated by the Colombian armed forces and according to reports from human rights organisations in Ecuador and from the Ecuadorian government, they were assisted by a third country.

They clandestinely raided the Ecuadorian territory, thereby infringing legislation and international treaties. In this operation they supposedly seized parts of a computer which they believe belonged to the late FARC leader Raul Reyes.

It was later shown in court that the police involved in gathering these parts did not have the expertise or the legal authorisation to handle technical evidence, which would give the Supreme Court of Justice the right to declare this evidence as illegal and invalid for use in a legal case.

A pre-fabricated case

This supposed evidence was nevertheless used to build a case linking members of the opposition in the political left to the “FARCPOLITICA” trial. This was at the same time as the “PARA POLITICA” scandal was exposed, so the “FARCPOLITICA” trial was the ideal creation to distract national and international attention.

Over these six years of “FARCPOLITICA” judicial and disciplinary investigations have been opened against several members of the political opposition belonging to the Colombian left, against former congressmen, former ministers, congressmen, journalists, academics, human rights defenders and there have even been attempts to implicate several democratic and left-wing personalities in other countries.

Following investigations, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled it illegal to use Raul Reyes’ alleged computers as evidence, so one by one investigations have been closed and most of those linked to the case have been cleared.

However, some of us linked to the case have been persecuted, victimised and revictimised every time there is a political or judicial requirement to detract attention away from embarrassing situations for the political elite.

I was the first person linked to the “FARCPOLITICA” trial to be sentenced and imprisoned, on August 8, 2008. Two years later, after being abducted by the Mexican state’s security forces in that country and deported to Colombia, the academic Miguel Angel Beltran Villegas was imprisoned and shortly thereafter, Joaquin Perez Becerra was arrested in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, handed over and jailed in Colombia.

Two years after his imprisonment in 2011 and coinciding with the Supreme Court of Justice’s ruling on the illegality of the evidence used in the “FARCPOLITICA” trial, Professor Beltran was acquitted of the charges against him and released. The following year, on March 1, 2012, after being detained for 43 months without a conviction, I was granted provisional freedom and then in June 2013, after a series of irregularities, I was acquitted of one of the charges against me and sentenced to 70 months under house arrest, a ban from holding public office and a fine of 707 million pesos (about $400,000) on charges of rebellion. In the case of the journalist Joaquín Pérez Becerra, he was acquitted on appeal and released in July 2014 after unjustly spending more than three years in detention.

Re-victimisation

In my case and in the cases of Joaquín Pérez Becerra and Miguel Angel Beltran Villegas the legal authorities resorted to a variety of tricks to try to get us convicted or to somehow revive the evidence that was declared illegal in order to prosecute other members of the opposition in the future.

It is no coincidence that a few days after the acquittal of journalist Joaquín Pérez Becerra, the Attorney General’s Office announced the verdict that the teacher Miguel Angel Beltran would be banned from holding public office for 13 years and, just a few days later, a new arrest warrant was issued against me. Today I am once again deprived of my freedom and detained in a cell even though I was sentenced to house arrest – in recognition of the fact that I am a mother and a professional, and I do not present any danger to society.

A new stage in the trial

After I had been sentenced, my lawyer filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, the same body that had previously declared the illegality of Raul Reyes’ computers.

The Court was quick to rule on April 3, 2014, a few days from the case lapsing, without any background study of the case, that the request submitted by my lawyer be declared inadmissible, and so upholding my conviction.

At the end of July 2014, my case was assigned to the Court for the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures. My defender immediately informed the Office that I should be serving house arrest - something that could easily be verified. It was then that we learned that the Office had issued an arrest warrant against me to ensure my compliance with my sentence.

We requested the immediate cancellation of this unnecessary arrest warrant since I am not a fugitive – unlike some fugitives who are clearly known in this country, the former director of the DAS, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the former Minister of Agriculture, Andres Felipe Arias, and the former peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, all government officials under Uribe Vélez. They are fugitives who enjoy abundant economic resources, contacts and protection. That’s not my case. But the judge did not consider our request and decided instead to activate the arrest warrant.

The show once again

On Tuesday August 5, 2014, I received a call from a man who identified himself as an officer from the district attorney’s office, who supposedly wanted to “interview” me. I informed the officer that I was already aware of the arrest warrant and therefore wanted to inform my lawyer and request his presence.

After consulting my lawyer I voluntarily complied with the request of the officer from the Technical Research arm of the Attorney General’s office. Without further ado, the CTI (Technical Investigation Team) officials proceeded to read me my rights and led me to the vehicle that would transport me. To my surprise it was not a vehicle from the Attorney General’s office but one of the Presidential Guard’s with the word ARMY on its side and driven by a young man in military uniform.

I was taken to the CTI’s office to fill out the necessary forms and then make myself available to the judge. A new profile was drawn up for me, photos were taken from every angle of my face with the emblems of the CTI in the background, a medical examination was carried out. Suddenly I felt a kind of déjà-vu, and memories of my first arrest gradually flooded back. So far everything had been carried out normally but suddenly the atmosphere became tense and I noticed the presence of various men in CTI uniforms and others in army uniforms waiting outside the office for me to come out.

I did not understand what was happening until one of the officers said to me – they want to take some pictures with you. A few minutes later I was being photographed with officers from the military, the Special Forces, the CTI, and then with everyone.

There it was again, as six years before, I was being displayed as “war trophy”. The next day, on the eve of the presidential inauguration of President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon’s second term in office, these images were shown in the media, alongside images of my first capture six years ago. And again it was reported that I was the lover of the late FARC leader Raul Reyes.

I was also attributed a series of aliases. And the influence of the media is so powerful that within minutes of the news being reported my custodians were calling me by one of my supposed aliases, until I asked them not to do it anymore.

Once again a “false positive” is being fabricated by the State Security in collusion with the ruling media, exposing me to public ridicule, and destroying my public image and my dignity as a woman. Again my life and my family are being put at risk but who is accountable for this? As with other cases, the media will never retract what they have said, and anyway the damage is already done.

It’s shameful that the judiciary, the intelligence agencies and government media should collude to fabricate such crude set-ups. That same August 6, I was transferred to the women’s prison in Bogota, El Buen Pastor, where I was to be held until the INPEC (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario y Carcelario) decided to transfer me back to house arrest. Unfortunately I was told that Buen Pastor is not taking on any new prisoners because of a strike. I was therefore transferred to the cells of the defunct DAS, and again I am in solitary confinement, enduring intensely cold conditions.

It would have been so simple to check that I was in my residence serving my house arrest sentence. None of this was necessary but perhaps someone was in need of a new media show? Who is the moving force behind the “FARCPOLITICA” trial?

Who could feel threatened by me? Or is it my conscience and love for justice the problem? Once again the phoenix will return from the ashes ... I’m free despite the bars.

Next article – Breaking the wall of silence about the Cuban Five

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