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Interview with Liliany Obando, ex-political prisoner

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Taken from: www.morningstaronline.co.uk

Colombian ex-political prisoner, trade unionist and human rights activist Liliany Obando recounts her ongoing ordeal

Six years and seven months have passed since August 8 2008, the day on which the calm of my home was violently crushed.
From that day on, my life and that of my family has never been the same.

 I lost my job, I had to postpone my university studies, my political activities. I was unable to see my kids grow, and control over my own life was taken away from me.

It was a Friday when heavily armed police officers forced their way into my house after having surrounded the entire premises.
They searched the house, they filmed everything, including my young children.
The commanding police officer said: ?We are going to make you famous both nationally and internationally.?
It was extremely painful to leave behind my loved ones. A few hours later my freedom disappeared.

I was publicly humiliated, paraded before the press who described me as a ?dangerous terrorist? as well as the lover of one of the leaders of the Farc insurgency.
Because of course ? through the perverse patriarchal lens of the intelligence services, as a woman there was no way I could be anything but that ? his lover.
So I found myself facing a legal case, a politically motivated process that violated due process with the sole purpose of silencing me as an activist.
I was taken to the women?s prison called The Good Shepherd ? what a name for a prison with absolutely nothing ?good.?
I was jailed, without having been convicted of anything, for almost four years.
While imprisoned, my application to be transferred to house arrest due to my being a single mother was denied on 10 occasions. The reason for this denial ? I was ?a danger to society.?
In prison, I dedicated myself to what my conscience has always called for ? to defending human rights.
It is the political prisoners who are treated the worst. Degrading treatment, harassment, persecution of relatives and lawyers, longer sentences and higher fines, medical negligence and threats all become part of the daily life that political prisoners have to face.

I spoke up against the inhumane prison conditions in Colombia, which brought me hatred from the prison guards and from then on the harassment was ever present.
In 2012 I was granted conditional release. Following my release I was threatened, followed, my family was photographed, accused of being terrorists and endangered.

The stigma associated with being accused of ?rebellion? or ?terrorism? can never be removed. You are not able to find work.
Although another separation was painful, I decided to distance myself temporarily from my family and my home.
I had to find work to support my children and I thought that if I spent some time away, I would reduce the danger they were in.
The judicial process continued. In 2013, I was cleared of ?terrorism,? but convicted of ?rebellion,? and ordered to pay an astronomical fine, a fine which even those stealing from the public purse or gangster drug lords would not receive.
I was allowed to serve the rest of my sentence under house arrest.
But before the house arrest became active, I was arrested once more, even though I was not suspected of fleeing. Once again I was subjected to being filmed by the press. This time they had me posing next to members of the ?special forces? of the army and the police investigation unit, who appeared out of nowhere.

And again there followed the media show. Once more I was the lover of a killed insurgency leader.
I was held for 15 days in the cells of the once feared and now defunct DAS state intelligence services because strangely The Good Shepherd women?s prison did not want to receive me.
I went on hunger strike and it was because of international pressure that they finally transferred me home.
I lived under house arrest for seven months and finally I managed to overcome all the obstacles that they put in my way to prevent my release on licence.
I had to once more rely on the support of national and international solidarity and the unrelenting work of my lawyers to have the release granted.
I am now on conditional bail. Time still remains until this nightmare ends and I am truly free.
I recall the words of the commanding officer who predicted that I would be ?famous.?
It is true ? I am no longer anonymous. But what you did not see, officer, is that a woman of the people only gets stronger in the most difficult situations.
I continue to be the same woman, only now I am more empowered. Now my voice reverberates, now it does not go quiet, and through my voice I do what I can to make visible the thousands of women, men, girls and boys who suffer exclusion and injustice in my country.
Now more than ever my commitment to a people who want to live in peace is reaffirmed.
Now I know, officer, that I regret nothing.


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