Over 4,000 academics from around the world have signed a petition for Colombia to release Dr. Miguel Angel Beltran, an academic imprisoned for two years without a conviction.
The petition, coordinated by the UK-based University and College Union, shows that international pressure is mounting on the government to release Dr. Beltran, who was arrested in May 2009 on suspicions of being part of the FARC‘s International Committee and a close ally of slain FARC commander “Raul Reyes.”
Authorities accused Beltran of infiltrating Central America’s academic circles to promote FARC interests, recruit new members and seek funds to finance terrorist activities.
The scholar claimed innocence after being charged with the crimes of rebellion and seeking funds to finance terrorist activities, saying the government was trying to “criminalize the academic work.”
“I am studying the political and armed conflict in Colombia; I have written in national and international journals and have received criticism from government politicians,” he argued in 2009.
Petition signatures have been collected from over 20 countries and more than 300 university professors. The petition states that Dr. Beltran was jailed in order to silence him and to discourage others like him from speaking out.
The academics cite Dr. Beltran’s academic work as the reason for his detention. They accuse the Colombian regime of violating the right to freedom of expression and claim that, “the large number of political prisoners that continue to be held in Colombia’s jails … belies claims that the government is committed to improving human rights.”
The petition is the second sent by the scholars union. The previous letter, sent in November 2010, collected 1,100 signatures from UK scholars.
Colombia has more than 5,000 political prisoners, according to NGO Justice for Colombia, many of whom have been imprisoned for “rebellion.”