Colombia ‘unlawfully detained’ 12,000 during anti-government protests in Bogota alone

Police beating a student newspaper reporter unconscious in Medellin. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Police in Colombia’s capital Bogota detained almost 12,000 people during last year’s anti-government protests “to criminalize” them, according to a human rights NGO.

During a debate about the police’s abuse of power, the NGO showed the Bogota city council police statistics demonstrating that 11,903 were detained during the protests between November 21 and December 22 on questionable grounds.

In 99.5% of the cases, protesters were detained and taken to a so-called Transfer Center for Protection (CTP) under a police code article that allows this “when the life and integrity of a person or third party is at risk or in danger. When the person wanders in a state of defenselessness or serious alteration of consciousness due to aspects of mental order. When the person is involved in a fight or presents aggressive or reckless behavior.”

This is unconstitutional because the CTP cannot be used for criminal policy purposes… the police are using Article 155 as a mechanism for persuasion and the criminalization of social protest.

NGO Temblores

The police records confirm allegations that Colombia’s security forces, and the anti-riot unit ESMAD in Bogota in particular, were committing human rights violation on an almost industrial scale.

According to Green Party council member Diego Cancino, protesters were tortured, subjected to verbal and physical abuse and in some cases detained for more than 10 hours.

Of the people arrested sent to the CTP and another 872 who were taken to police stations, “only 25 cases ended up in court,” Cancino said.

The actions of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad constitute cruel and inhumane treatment that merits international monitoring and intervention. Are we facing a systematic practice of repression of social protest, excessive use of force and misuse of the process of transfer for protection that led to arbitrary and illegal detentions that in turn paved the way for torture of detainees and attempts at forced disappearance?

Green Party council member Diego Cancino

Council member Lucia Bastidas, also of the Green Party, defended the loathed anti-riot police, claiming that 400 police officers were injured, which would include officers affected by tear gas thrown by their colleagues.

The United Nations Human Rights chief in Colombia, Alberto Brunori, said after a student protest in January he was concerned “that some individuals, fortunately a minority, violently attacked and harassed members of the National Police, demonstrators and public and private infrastructure.”

Brunori’s boss in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet, is reportedly preparing her annual report on human rights in Colombia in which she would state that the police “would have violated international norms and standards relating to the use of force” during the protests.”

This report is expected to be presented in March.

Colombia’s press freedom foundation FLIP presented its report on 2019 over the weekend, claiming that 66 journalists were attacked during the protest, the majority of whom by police.

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