By Tom Burke
March 6, 2012
Colombia – Colombian political prisoner Liliany “Lily” Obando is now free, released on bond from prison where she spent over three and one-half years on charges of “rebellion”. Obando is today hugging her elderly mother and two children. The International Network in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (INSPP) is celebrating the freedom of this powerful Colombian woman labor activist and human rights defender. Obando is one of 8000 political prisoners and prisoners of war imprisoned by the Colombian government.
Lily Obando was arrested August 8, 2008 while serving as a human rights coordinator for FENSUAGRO. FENSUAGRO is Colombia’s largest peasant farmers and farm workers union. Police arrested Obando just as she was finishing an academic report and documentary movie about her union’s 1,500 members killed by Colombian military and paramilitaries over the past 30 years. Colombia is a country where one trade unionist murdered every week is considered “an improving situation” by the U.S. government. President Obama signed a Free Trade Treaty with Colombia on October 11, 2011. Known as an important trade union leader, Lily Obando was held on false evidence generated by the military and police.
The Colombian government’s evidence consisted of severely damaged computers and discs captured after a U.S./Colombian bombing raid inside Ecuador that targeted and killed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader Raul Reyes and 24 others. Colombian Police Captain Ronald Hayden Coy Ortiz oversaw the initial investigation of computers captured in the bombing raid. He testified in court that the computers contained no email records. Still the courts ignored evidence from the government’s own side to keep Lily in prison and punish her for “rebellion”. There never was any evidence against Lily, just lies to stop her important work exposing the wealthy one-percent, their death squad government, and U.S. backers.
Lily Obando had powerful backing too, not to be underestimated–international solidarity. Over three years, activists in the U.S. and other countries collected friend of the court statements signed by notables, petitions, letters, and emails protesting Lily’s imprisonment. The Colombia Action Network educated people and demonstrated at the School of the Americas (WHISC) and helped send solidarity delegations. Activists built a movement of international solidarity for Liliany Obando and her freedom, but aimed for much more. Obando’s release is being announced along with a major conference in support of the more than 8,000 Colombian political prisoners: the Colombia Behind Bars Forum, with guests from around the world, including representatives of the INSPP and the Alliance For Global Justice (AFGJ) from the U.S.
James Jordan of AFGJ explained, “I spoke a few days ago to Liliany at the Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) Women’s Penitentiary just moments after receiving the news. I was so happy, so overjoyed I could barely contain myself. Lily greeted me, ‘You heard the good news?’ Yes, of course, I’d heard it. I asked her how she was feeling, and she said, ‘I have mixed emotions. I want to leave, but I don’t want to leave the other political prisoners behind. We have to keep working until all the political prisoners are free.’”
James warned too, “All is not settled regarding Liliany’s case. The court process is not suspended and she can be sent back to jail. Also, political prisoners are often at risk of violence from government death squads in the first days, weeks, and months following their liberty.”
James finished by saying, “Now is the time to demand freedom for Colombia’s 8,000 political prisoners and prisoners of war. We must demand an end to the U.S. government war and repression in Colombia, including funding and restructuring Colombian prisons where political prisoners are concentrated under harsh conditions. But as we vow to continue this struggle … let us also take a moment to celebrate this great victory. As Liliany once told me, ‘By day we struggle, by night we dance!’”