Colombia: Political prisoner speaks out

September 27, 2008

In an "open letter to the national and international community" written from prison, Colombian trade union and human rights activist Liliana Obando denounced the government's unprecedented "new witch-hunt against the political opposition in Colombia".

Obando was arrested on August 8 by the anti-terrorism unit of the Colombian National Police and charged with "rebellion" against the state, a catch-all regularly used to imprison people who speak out against the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez, the largest recipient of US military aid in the region.

In the letter, Obando described Colombia's "mafia style of governance" characterised by "the links between government officials, the district attorney office and State security with the cartels of the paramilitary mafia". She denounced the government's repeated attempts to undermine the independence of the justice system and its military incursions into other countries.

Obando explained that on May 22, Colombia's attorney-general announced the beginning of a judicial process against a list of political activists. The activists are supposedly implicated in illegal activities by emails the government claims were found on the laptop of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader Raul Reyes after he was killed by the Colombian military in Ecuadorean territory on March 1.

Obando was included in this list, which was published by Colombia's establishment media on August 8. "A few hours later, my ... residence was raided and I was taken away ... and six days later, jailed at the Women's Prison in Bogota", she writes.

During the raid, Obando explained, "My 15 year-old son was verbally abused and intimidated" and "personal items and documents belonging to my mother and children (bank statements, passports and laptop) that had no connection to the proceedings against me" were illegally seized.

Obando also describes "the manipulated filming ... of documents and books freely available for public sale that were presented in the media as subversive propaganda".

Obando's lawyers are appealing the decision to deny her home detention to care for her children and mother. Her letter expresses "profound concern" at the state surveillance of her son since her imprisonment.

Obando rejects as "evidence" against her the emails supposedly found in Reyes' computer because "a cloud of doubt exists over their veracity and the manipulation they were subjected to". The letter also denounces the attorney-general's office "for starting the process of accusations against many leaders of the opposition and national and international personalities based only on the supposed emails".

Obando added that "due to the lack of credibility and legitimacy enjoyed by those responsible for justice in Colombia", she is turning to international organisations for help: "Only unity in action, mobilisation, solidarity and adherence to revolutionary principles allows us to confront the difficult moments and advance towards the construction of a real democracy, and political inclusion and the long yearned for peace with social justice."

The full text of Obando's letter and more information about the international campaign for her freedom are available at

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