Colombian trade union and human rights activist Liliany Obando was arrested and detained in a maximum security prison on August 8 by the anti-terrorism unit of the Colombian National Police.
She was charged with "rebellion" against the state, a catch-all charge that is regularly used to imprison those who speak out against the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez, the largest recipient of US military aid in the region.
At the time of her arrest, Obando, the sole breadwinner in her family of two young sons and her mother, was carrying out a study on assassinations of Agricultural Workers Union Federation (Fensuagro) members by paramilitary death squads and government security forces.
Colombia's state security forces, in conjunction with paramilitary groups, are notorious for their human rights abuses and murder of social movement activists. To date, more than 2500 trade unionists have been killed, with 40 assassinated this year alone. Meanwhile, more than 70 pro-Uribe legislators are under investigation for having direct links to paramilitary death squads.
Obando toured Australia twice in recent years while working for Fensuagro's international relations commission, and spoke with many organisations about the Uribe government's abuses of human rights, and the Colombian people's struggles for peace and justice.
The international campaign to free Obando and have all charges against her immediately dropped has won wide support in many countries. In Australia, many organisations and individuals — including solidarity groups, academics, religious organisations, NGOs, progressive political parties, and Unions NSW, the Maritime Union of Australia, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and National Tertiary Education Union branches — have passed motions and sent letters of protest to the Colombian and Australian governments in recent weeks.
Unions WA voted on September 16 to also organise a delegation of union leaders to meet with Colombia's ambassador in Australia and to approach all WA members of parliament, at every level of government, to lobby the federal government for Obando's release.
However, much more pressure must urgently be put on the Colombian government if Obando is to be freed and her safety guaranteed.
All human rights supporters are urged to:
put motions condemning Obando's arrest to your union or other community organisations;
send letters calling for her release to the Colombian president at firstname.lastname@example.org, with copies to Colombia's Australian embassy at email@example.com, and to your local MP (please send a copy to Peace and Justice For Colombia at firstname.lastname@example.org);
write to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at email@example.com;
help organise public protest actions; and
help raise funds for Obando's legal defence and to assist her children.
For more information, visit http://www.colombiasolidarity.net.