Education International
Education International

Education unions increase efforts to release imprisoned Colombian Academic

published 19 November 2015 updated 20 November 2015

Education International has joined education unions’ calls for the immediate release of Colombian academic Dr Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas, who remains detained in Bogotá since his arrest on 31 July of this year.

Beltrán, a member of the higher education union ASPU, is an outspoken critic of the Colombian government and has dedicated much of his research to conflict and turmoil within the country. He was first arrested in May 2009 on allegations of links to the terrorist group FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – which was his field of research. He spent two years in a high-security jail awaiting trial. His detention caused an international outrage in the global academic community, with Education International (EI), its members, and thousands of academics protesting against his prolonged detention.

Higher education colleagues at EI have led the fight to free Beltrán from the beginning. They view the charges of "rebellion" and "breaking the law for terrorist purposes" related to the FARC guerrilla movement as illegitimate and his 2009 arrest a violation of academic freedom.

During his trial, Beltrán maintained that he is "an academic, not a terrorist," and that his case was part of a systematic attack on intellectuals, in which academics critical of the regime were accused of being guerrillas. Education International echoed this notion and condemned abuses of teachers' human and trade union rights in Colombia—including assassinations—in a high-profile international campaign. This campaign promoted by AFT, CAUT, CONADU, UCU and the British NGO Justice for Colombia among others, resulted in Miguel Beltrán being cleared of all charges and released. The Colombian court also ruled that the evidence used against him was flawed.

However, Dr Beltran was arrested again in July 2015 charged with “rebellion”. The University and College Union (UCU) and Justice for Colombia launched a petition which they handed over to the Colombia embassy in London on 18 November.