Education International
Education International

EI demands release of imprisoned Colombian professor

published 10 September 2010 updated 10 September 2010

EI has launched a global on-line petition calling on the Colombian government to release Miguel Ángel Beltrán, a university professor and trade unionist who has been imprisoned on charges that violate his basic right to academic freedom.

Prof. Miguel Beltrán was tried in 2009 by the government of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, on charges of “rebellion” and “breaking the law for terrorist purposes.” One year and a half after his imprisonment, there is still no evidence to support the allegations against him.

Throughout his academic career, Dr. Beltrán has published articles and academic papers questioning the government's official version of the Colombian civil war. He has also criticised Colombia’s education policy and the pervasive human rights abuses in the country.

“Although my academic activities are not criminal, papers written by me are presented as evidence against me,” he said. ”It is easy to echo the calls to war. But studying the roots of the social and armed conflicts is a much more complex and dangerous exercise.”

Professor Beltrán has denounced attacks against the university community and 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.”

EI has repeatedly condemned abuses of teachers’ human and trade union rights in Colombia, which continue to be committed with impunity. From 1995 to 2010, an appalling total of 873 teachers have been assassinated, 19 since January this year.

EI urges academics, teachers and everyone concerned about the atrocious human and labour rights situation in Colombia to express their solidarity with Miguel Beltrán, whose only “crime” is his academic writings and political beliefs. As Prof. Beltrán himself has said: “These four walls hold my body prisoner, but not my mind.”

EI has written an open letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and to the Colombian embassy in Belgium, calling for the unconditional release of Miguel Beltrán.

To sign the EI petition and add your voice to those around the world calling for justice for Miguel Beltrán, please click here.

For a full report on the systemic and gross violations of the human and trade union rights of Colombian teachers, see: Colombia’s Classroom Wars by Dr. Mario Novelli (pdf).