Test Case for Colombian Supreme Court to End Widespread Criminalization of Activism

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brenda Bowser Soder
(202) 370-3323, bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org

Test Case for Colombian Supreme Court to End Widespread Criminalization of Activism

Colombian Activist, Victim of Arbitrary Detention, Seeks Annulment of Trumped-Up Charges

NEW YORK -  A test case filed today with the Colombian Supreme Court could mark a
turning point in Colombia’s efforts to end the criminalization of human
rights defenders, according to Human Rights First (HRF), a New
York-based international human rights organization.

Principe Gabriel Gonzalez Arango, a student activist and member of
the Colombian Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, has filed an
appeal with the Colombian Supreme Court seeking an extraordinary remedy
(casación) to quash his malicious terrorism conviction.

"This appeal gives Colombia’s Supreme Court of Justice a historic
opportunity to overturn years of arbitrary detention and unjust
persecution against Gonzalez," said Andrew Hudson, Senior Associate at
HRF. "The Supreme Court should send a strong message that it will not
tolerate abuse of the judicial system to intimidate and silence human
rights defenders."

According to Gonzalez's legal team, this is the first time a human
rights defender has sought this type of extraordinary remedy from the
Colombian Supreme Court. The precedential value of this case is
enormous, and a strong decision by the Supreme Court would help dozens
of other Colombian activists who are victims of baseless criminal
prosecutions. "Gonzalez's case is just the tip of the iceberg.
Throughout Colombia, human rights defenders are subject to trumped-up
charges intended to persecute them" said Hudson.

Gonzalez was detained in Bucaramanga for more than one year starting
in 2006, and remained incarcerated while awaiting trial on charges of
rebellion and of being in charge of an urban militia force linked to
the FARC guerrilla group. At trial, a judge acquitted him of all
charges, finding that they were baseless and should never have been
initiated. Inexplicably, the acquittal was appealed, and in March 2009,
after two years of liberty, the Superior Tribunal of Bucaramanga
overturned the lower court's judgment and sentenced Gonzalez to seven
more years in prison for the same false charges. The prosecution relied
on two witnesses: one who was unable to physically identify or even
name Gonzalez before he was detained, and the other who admitted to
providing statements under duress from prosecutors. 

Gonzalez's appeal to the Supreme Court argues that his conviction is
void for two reasons. First, it violates his right to defense by
failing to inform him that a preliminary investigation against him was
underway. Second, for error of reasoning by accepting contradictory and
incoherent witness evidence from ex-combatants receiving re-integration
benefits from the state.

A range of international entities have expressed concern about
Gonzalez’s prosecution: the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the
UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on
Human Rights Defenders, and the United States Department of State.

According to HRF, Gonzalez's case is emblematic of many others.  In February 2009, the group released In the Dock and Under the Gun: Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia,
a comprehensive report that, for the first time, documented the
widespread use of trumped-up charges to silence Colombian human rights
activists.

HRF and Gonzalez's legal team are currently considering whether to
take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Further information:

More information on Gonzalez and his case

Video about Gonzalez’s case

Information about human rights defenders in Colombia

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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