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17 October 2002 Edition

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Colombia Three not to attend trial


As the trial of Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly opened in Bogatá on Wednesday, there were startling new developments in the case.

As An Phoblacht was going to press, we spoke with Caitríona Ruane, Bring Them Home Campaign spokesperson. Having travelled over 5,000 miles to visit the men, she was refused access to the prison on Wednesday morning. Surrounded by armed soldiers, Caitríona spoke of her fear for the men's safety and her conviction that the men simply cannot receive due process in Colombia.

"It is absolutely incredible that the prison can refuse access to the men's lawyers and defence team on the morning of their trial," she protested. "These visits have been planned and approved well in advance. For the prison authorities to now declare that they need to close the jail off to all visitors in order to carry out routine security measures is beyond belief."

The level of political interference in the men's case took on new heights this week as Colombian authorities refused Sinn Féin Assembly member Francie Molloy a visa to attend the trial. Molloy was to act as an observer at the trial at the request of the men's families and the Bring Them Home campaign group.

Sinn Féin has expressed the party's deep concern and anger at the refusal of the Colombian authorities to grant Molloy's visa. A spokesperson said: "This refusal will only add to the worries that the men's families and indeed Sinn Féin have in relation to the men getting a fair trial."

The men and their families see no way they can receive a fair trial.

Ignoring all presumptions of innocence, senior officials in the Colombian administration, right up to President Alvaró Uribe and General Fernando Tapias Stahelinn, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, have declared the men guilty and called for a conviction.

With such political pressure being brought to bear, there is no way for the trial judge to dismiss the charges against the men as natural justice demands.

As a result, the men have been forced to take the decision not to attend the trial. Reading the statement on behalf of the men, Caitríona Ruane cited the continued political interference and the absence of due process as the reasons behind the men's decision.

In a statement, the men said: "We are Irish citizens. We are requesting our government to send an official legal observer to the trial and to intervene with the Colombian government and international community to ensure that we receive due process".

Commenting on the development, a Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "For some time now, Sinn Féin has been voicing our 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, especially in light of the circumstances surrounding their non-appearance in court last month. We endorse the calls for the speedy release of the men and their return home to their families."

As we go to press, Caitríona Ruane remains outside the prison, negotiating with prison authorities to gain access to the men in order to let the trial judge know of their decision. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Fears for Connolly's safety

There are growing concerns for the safety of Niall Connolly. Shortly after the assault by riot police at La Picota prison, as the men chose not to attend the preliminary hearing scheduled for 5 October, he was separated from Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley and placed in a six by ten-foot cell punishment cell.

Despite protests to the Irish government, he continues to be held in isolation from the other men in overcrowded and dangerous conditions in the notorious prison.

Connolly is now being held in a cell with three right wing paramilitaries. After he protested to the prison authorities about the dangerous situation in which he has been placed, he was told "not to worry, the men aren't armed, it will only be a punch up", reports Bring Them Home campaign spokesperson, Caitríona Ruane.


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