Unjustly Detained – Held in Prison for 15 months
Principe Gabriel González is Regional Coordinator of the independent human rights organization, the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee (Fundacion Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP)), and was imprisoned for over one year. From January 4, 2006 to April 4, 2007 he was detained in Bucaramanga, Santander department, falsely accused of rebellion and of being in charge of an urban militia force.
The case against Principe Gabriel was extremely weak. Both of the witnesses in the case were allegedly former guerilla members and asserted that Principe Gabriel was the commander of an urban militia force linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Yet one was unable to physically identify or even name Principe Gabriel before he was detained and the other previously admitted to providing statements under duress from authorities.
Released from Prison – Judge finds Charges are Baseless
On April 4, 2007, Principe Gabriel was released from prison after a Judge in Bucaramanga acquitted him of all charges. The Judge found that the rebellion charges against Principe Gabriel, accusing him of being a terrorist, were baseless and relied on witness evidence and government reports which lacked impartiality and credibility. The judgment confirms that the charges against Principe Gabriel should never have been initiated.
Mr. González’s release was the culmination of extensive advocacy by Human Rights First with the Colombian President, Vice-President, Attorney-General and Ambassador to the US as well as with President Bush, the State Department and UN human rights bodies (see below).
At Risk of Reprisal Attacks – the Need for Protective Measures
However, the charges against Principe Gabriel stigmatized him as being a rebel guerrilla and he was at high risk of reprisal attacks from paramilitary forces. In the past, human rights defenders have been found innocent of rebellion charges, only to be attacked or killed upon their release.
After extensive advocacy by Human Rights First (see below), in early June 2007, Principe Gabriel was granted protective measures by the Colombian government (consisting of secure and protected transport and telephone communications).
Acquittal Overturned on Appeal
In March 2009, after two years of liberty, a tribunal overturned the lower court’s judgment and sentenced González to seven more years in prison for the same false charges. Human Rights First quickly reacted to the decision by coordinating civil society’s response, denouncing the decision in media outlets, and meeting with judicial, UN and prosecutorial actors to encourage that the decision be overturned. We issued a press release and worked with a coalition of international NGOs to raise the case before the UN Human Rights Council. We also posted a short web video about the case featuring an interview with Principe Gabriel’s wife. Human Rights First has since helped secure funding for his appeal to the Colombian Supreme Court, which has suspended the arrest warrant against him.
2009 Human Rights Award
On October 22, 2009 Human Rights First presented González with its 2009 human rights award in New York. The award acknowledged González’s important work defending prisoners’ rights and recognized the suffering he endured after being unjustly detained for 15 months on trumped-up charges. After four months of delay, González was granted a visa to enter the United States to receive his award. González testified before Congress and met with senior US government officials.
Human Rights First Materials