3 October 2002 Edition
Free the Colombia Three
Trial begins amid evidence of political interference
The trial of the three Irishmen arrested in Colombia in August 2001 - Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley - begins tomorrow, Friday, 4 October. Spokesperson for the Bring Them Home campaign, Caitríona Ruane, speaking as she was departing for the trial, said that there were huge concerns that the three men would not receive a fair trial given the level of misinformation and political interference that has dogged the case in the last 14 months. She said that even at this late stage the men should be released and brought home to their families.
"On 11 August these three Irishmen were arrested in Bogota airport in Colombia and six months later were charged with the use of false documents and training the FARC," said Ruane. "Since that time they have been held in three different jails and holding centres and their lives have been in constant danger.
"From the moment of their arrest, in the full glare of the world's media, the case has been dogged by misinformation and political interference both inside Colombia and in Ireland and Britain.
"The lawyers for the three men are very concerned that they will not receive a fair trial and that their case has already been prejudiced by public comments made by senior political and judicial figures in Colombia. It is also important to note that the men will be tried in a one judge, no jury court and that the country is under a state of emergency.
"Among those who have voiced similar concerns are the United Nations, the Irish government, political figures around the world and international human rights organisations. A number of political and human rights organisations will be sending observers to monitor the trial and will be providing regular updates.
"In recent months key elements of the prosecution case have been withdrawn and discredited including controversial forensic reports and paid informers. During the trial, the men's lawyers will be producing both forensic experts and a range of other witnesses.
"Given the absence of any evidence, other than the possession of the false passports which is a minor charge dealt with through deportation, and the fact that they cannot receive a fair trial we are calling for the men to be released and sent home to their families."
Last Thursday, 26 September, the campaign and representatives of the three families met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen. The purpose of the meeting was to brief the Minister on the recent visit by members of our families to the three men in La Picota prison, Bogota, Colombia.
A spokesperson for the Bring Them Home Campaign said: "At the meeting with Brian Cowen last week we requested that the Irish government send a legal observer to the trial." The Bring Them Home Campaign is urging people to send letters to the government and lobby them on this point.
McElduff to attend trial
Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Tyrone, Barry McElduff, is travelling to Colombia this evening for a seven day visit, to act as an observer at the opening of the trial of three Irishmen currently being held in the country. While there he will also visit the three men.
Speaking prior to his departure, McElduff said:
"I am travelling to Colombia, at the request of the men's families and the Bring Them Home Campaign, to act as an observer as the trial of Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly.
"For some time now Sinn Féin has been voicing concern at the continued detention of the three men and the fact that their right to a fair legal process is being denied. We are also greatly concerned about the safety of the men and the fact that their lives are at serious risk.
"Along with representatives of the Irish government and human rights organisations, I will be observing the trial and supporting the demand for fairness and justice. I also endorse calls for the speedy release of the men and their return home to their families."