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20 March 2003 Edition

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Hanging on the telephone

Colombia Three protest at Dept of Foreign Affairs




Niall Connolly was there aurally, if not in person, as two to three hundred people gathered outside the Department of Foreign Affiars in Dublin on Saturday last to demand the release of the three Irishmen held in Colombia.

Connolly had used up some of his precious phone time in Modela prison in Bogota to listen to the speeches via a family member's mobile.

Caitriona Ruane spokesperson for the Bring Them Home Campaign said: "The trial in Colombia is a farce, three Irish citizens have been held for 19 months in some of the most dangerous jails in the world. The trial began in October 2002 and has stopped and started 5 times since then. Yet we have only had four prosecution witnesses during that time. Each one worse than the previous one.

"It is obvious that the Colombian military are putting up 'prepared witnesses' who contradict themselves under cross examination. It was so farcical at the last hearing on 4 March; the witness admitted under cross examination that he was a soldier living in a military barracks and that he received benefits from the Colombian Army and prosecution. He was 19 years of age and his testimony was riddled with contradictions. Another witness claimed that he was trained by the three Irishmen from 5-25 February 2001. A video tape of Jim Monaghan was shown on RTE giving a presentation on Peace and Reconciliation in Belfast during that time.

"The Colombian State is fabricating a case against these three men and a miscarriage of justice is occurring as we speak. The Irish government must intervene publicly to stop this farce. They have to stop pretending that Colombia is a democratic country with a 'normal' legal system."

Paul Hill of the Guildford 4, no stranger to unjust incarceration, said: "I was 13 years in jail before I was visited by any representative of any Irish government. When they did intervene, (albeit 13 years too late) their intervention was very significant and contributed towards getting us released. I am calling on the Irish government to intervene in this case now, to stop a miscarriage of justice happening. I hope that the government has learned the lessons from our case and that these men do not suffer the same injustice as we did. It is time the Irish government found the moral backbone to stand up for Irish citizens instead of hiding in the corner hoping it will all go away.'

Independent TD Finian McGrath spoke of his experiences visiting the men in prison, and of the terrible danger they face, given the close proximity of right-wing death squad members.

Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe said that political interference in the trial has been getting steadily worse, with highly publicised statements from the military and senior politicians, including Colombian President Uribe, saying that the men are guilty. "This is a complete violation of the presumption of innocent until proven guilty and gross political interference in an already contaminated process," he said.

"I have attended two sessions of this trial as part of an international team of observers and the only evidence presented by the prosecution has been based on pure fantasy, speculation and half-truths. The proceedings have descended into complete farce and I firmly believe that there is absolutely no possibility of Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly getting a fair trial. And with every day that passes the three men's lives are in more danger."
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