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Free Liliany Obando!

By James Jordan

August hearing shows no grounds for her arrest

Alliance for Global Justice volunteer, Raquel Mogollón, was in attendance at the trial of political prisoner Liliany Obando Aug. 4 in Bogotá, Colombia. Based on her eyewitness report, the hearing revealed manipulation of evidence behind the charges being brought against Obando.

Obando is a sociologist, independent film maker and unionist who was arrested the very week she released a report on the assassination of more than 1500 members of FENSUAGRO, the largest organization of farmers and farm workers in Colombia. She was arrested on the basis of evidence the government claims was found in computers belonging to Commander Raúl Reyes, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP).

Prosecutors maintain that Obando was raising money for the FARC-EP via her position as Director of International Relations for FENSUAGRO. However, money she raised in tours abroad is easily traceable and shown to have gone directly to the union. The other charge Obando faces is ‘rebellion,’ a charge frequently used to intimidate and silence members of the political opposition.

Commander Reyes was killed when the Colombian Air Force bombed his camp, across the border in Ecuador. The camp was working out details for the release of four FARC-EP-held prisoners of war. According to Colombian Senator Píedad Córdoba, this was an attack on the peace process itself.

Córdoba has been the main negotiator securing a series of prisoner releases by the guerrillas. She told Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper: “Almost no knows this. But the reason that Uribe and Santos took the decision to bomb the camp of Raúl Reyes…was to ruin the negotiation that was advancing significantly in the U.S. to free Ingrid Betancourt and the three Americans….What followed is history – the attacks…cost the lives of 26 persons, among them four Mexican civilians. The international community rapidly pardoned Uribe. The hostages were liberated in a military operation a few months later. And the possibility of a political exit to the military conflict went up in smoke once again.”

The Colombian government claims that it recovered two computers belonging to Reyes that somehow survived the bombing. The international police agency INTERPOL has said that the evidence was not handled according to accepted norms and could not be authenticated. INTERPOL received the computers more than a week after they had been in the custody of Colombian authorities. Police Captain Ronald Hayden Coy Ortiz was the first authority to officially access the computers and headed up the initial investigation. In a previous court appearance, Coy admitted that during the time he had the computers, that he saw no emails, only Word files (which are known to be easily manipulated). Charges against Obando have been brought on the basis of alleged emails contained on the computer.

The hearing on August 4 was a chance to hear more from Captain Coy. According to Mogollón, Coy was asked repeatedly about the proper “chain of custody.” Evidence is supposed to be handled according to strict rules, with no gaps regarding its whereabouts or access. However, throughout the initial handling, there were irregularities. For instance, bodies from the scene of the bombing arrived in Bogotá well in advance of the computers, with no explanation of the delay.

Questioning not only by Obando’s attorney, Eduardo Matyas, but also by the judge, revealed that there was a three-day gap during which access was undertaken by Coy and other investigative police, as well as the unaccounted hours during which the computers were supposedly in transit to Bogotá. Coy admitted that he and investigators accessed the files without permission from the proper authorities and that details of the procedures were not documented. Coy defended his decision to independently open the computers on the basis that the evidence was of the “highest national security.” It was not explained how decisions concerning the ‘highest national security’ were to be best made by a police captain using irregular procedures without consulting superiors. When asked by Matyas if he had the expertise to open these computers without authorization, Coy admitted he didn’t.

Global Justice volunteer Mogollón says, “The judge took a very harsh tone with the officer. He asked Coy, why, if he had no expertise, he didn’t document the chain of custody. Coy responded that there was ‘…no room to write the info down – it's a very small space, just a little square.’ The judge responded, ‘I don't want to hear about the very small space! Couldn't you have gotten another piece of paper?' Coy responded, ‘I don't know....we just didn't....I'm sorry.’”

Obando is one of 14 persons originally implicated in what is called the ‘farc-política,’ an effort taken by the outgoing Uribe administration to intimidate political opposition members by tying them to the FARC-EP on the basis of discredited evidence allegedly ‘uncovered’ from the Reyes computers. As former Minister of Defense, it was incoming President Santos who ordered the attacks on the prisoner release negotiation camp. So far, all the initial investigations related to the farc-politica have been thrown out of court – except Obando’s. Based on the evidence of star witness Captain Coy, it is difficult to see on what basis Obando’s case will continue.

On Aug. 8, Obando will have completed two years of incarceration, enduring a long and drawn out court case still in its preliminary stages. Not long after her arrest, Colombian military officers, including the commander of the Colombian army, were implicated in the extrajudicial executions of hundreds of young Colombians. These youths were dressed up in guerrilla clothing after they were murdered and claimed as enemy combatants killed in battle. The implicated officers were let out of jail on a technicality because their trial process was not begun within 90 days of their initial charges. That same technicality alone should qualify Obando for release from jail. But it’s been two years and counting.

If trials are based on the credibility of evidence and witnesses, then many observers are speculating that Coy’s testimony can only add weight to those national and international allies calling for Obando’s release.

On Aug. 6, Mogollón was able to obtain a short visit with Obando at the Buen Pastor National Women’s Penitentiary. Asked for a statement about the hearing, Obando said,

“We feel that the hearing was very positive and that, finally, the public is learning that these files were manipulated illegally and without any authorization. Even INTERPOL agreed that the Ministry of Defense later gave them unauthorized copies, some of which were also improperly released to the public without any verification of their veracity. This is just another example of the witch hunt called the farc-politica.”

#BogotáColombia #Bogotá #Colombia #PoliticalPrisoners #FENSUAGRO #AllianceForGlobalJustice #Americas