Global March Governing Board member Education International (EI) has launched a new urgent action appeal to call on the government of Colombia to release Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas, a university professor and trade unionist who has been imprisoned.
EI explains that Professor Beltrán was first tried in 2009 on spurious charges of ‘rebellion’ and ‘breaking the law for terrorist purposes’. Eighteen months after his imprisonment there is still no evidence to support the allegations against him. Therefore, EI believes the charges amount to a violation of Professor Beltran’s exercise of academic freedom.
The trial of Professor Beltrán is scheduled to re-open on 12 November 2010 and EI is encouraging concerted international scrutiny, to ensure due process is followed to obtain the professor’s release. In a recent message to supporters, Professor Beltran said: “Your presence and that of international observers will be vital. It will be extremely important because this is a politically motivated trial, against political thought, against freedom of expression and against academic independence.”
Professor Beltrán has also denounced continuing attacks against the university community as well as violations of academic freedom in Colombia. In an open letter to his union, the Association of University Professors (ASPU), sent from La Picota prison in February 2010, he wrote: “These violations are reflected in the arbitrary arrests of students, police raids on university campuses, the murder and disappearance of students, threats against university professors, and the widespread accusations of rebellion against university members, followed by hasty trials.” He added: “These four walls hold my body prisoner, but not my mind.”
EI has repeatedly condemned abuses of teachers’ human and trade union rights in Colombia, which continue to be committed with impunity. Between 1995 and 2010, a total of 873 teachers were assassinated, with 19 more since January this year. EI urges all academics, teachers and others who are concerned about the terrible human and trade union rights situation in Colombia to express their solidarity with Professor Beltrán whose only crime is his academic writing and political beliefs.
In this respect, EI has set up an online petition to facilitate those who wish to show their solidarity with Professor Beltrán and add their voice to those around the world calling for justice in his trial. Global March has signed this petition and urges members and partners that can to do the same. In order to access the online petition, click here and follow instructions.