Political Prisoners Reach 23rd Day of Hunger Strike

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Political prisoners in the 'Palo Gordo' jail in central Colombia today reached the 23rd day of a hunger strike called in protest at their treatment by the prison authorities. According to human rights organisations, there are serious fears for the health of the seven prisoners involved.

The hunger strike began on January 8th after the detainees, jailed in the city of Giron in Santander department, chose to protest at their imprisonment in a maximum security jail for two years despite the fact that they are all officially classified as 'medium security' prisoners. Conditions are substantially harsher in the high security prison and the seven men claim that they are victims of discrimination and unfair treatment at the hands of the prison authorities.

In 2004, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights ordered that the prisoners be given special protection as, due to their political status, they were in danger from attacks by rightwing paramilitary prisoners. The prisoners claim that the authorities misinterpreted this to continue holding them in 'high security' conditions. Yet despite this the men continue to be in danger and are not receiving proper security measures. Additionally, they argue that their prisoner classification entitles them to the less restrictive conditions in a 'medium security' prison.

The Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, one of Colombia's oldest human rights NGOs, has called for all seven to be transferred immediately and have asked the United Nations and the International Red Cross to enter the jail to investigate the conditions in which the men are being kept.

On January 29th the prisoners declared that they would stop taking oral re-hydration salts in response to the lack of action on the part of the authorities. Human rights groups say that it appears that the prison service is willing to let them die rather than relent. One of the prisoners said "rather than solve the problem, which could be done quickly and easily, INPEC [the national prison service] prefers to see prisoners die".

The Committee for Solidarity has blamed the prison director, Colonel Jose Alfonso Bautista, for the deadlock and says that if action is not taken within days the prisoners will pass a point of no return.

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