The TUC condemns the arrest of four human rights defenders in Colombia last week. The four activists were Esmer Montilla Gutiérrez, President of the Foundation for the Defence of Human Rights (DHOC), Ingrid Piñilla Espitia, vice-president of the Association of Peasant Workers and a regional coordinator for the pro-peace Patriotic March movement, and José Samuel Rojas Mora and Juan Ramiro Atehortua from other campaign groups. They have been charged with kidnapping and rebellion.
Gutiérrez’s DHOC movement has monitored and criticised abuses being committed by the army and the police and other DHOC members have previously received death threats and intimidation. The three men arrested were also responsible for negotiating with the authorities during a 2013 nationwide rural protest. As part of this they cooperated with local officials to monitor the protests and hand over undercover police and army infiltrators, and it is feared that these arrests may be both belated retaliation for their involvement, and designed to prevent further strikes this year after the government failed to deliver on a string of promises given in the wake of the 2013 dispute.
The TUC believes that these arrests are linked to the work of the four in defending their local communities and livelihoods, and that – as is so often the case – the Colombian government is using whatever means necessary to silence dissent. We ask that the authorities release all four without delay, and immediately investigate the circumstances of their arrest to ensure that those responsible for cynical manipulation of the legal process for political means are identified and prosecuted.