In the early hours of the morning of September 29, EJP lawyer LEONARDO MARIN JAIMES and ROMMEL DURÁN CASTELLANOS travelled from Bucaramanga to Curumaní – Cesar- for the purpose of carrying out activities related to their accompaniment of the peasant farming community of Pitalito.
On the way back , around 10:35 pm , at a checkpoint near the town of Rio Negro – Santander, members of the National Police – DESAN – stopped their vehicle, assigned to the lawyer LEONARDO JAIMES as part of his protection scheme.
The police used the pretext that they had missed an earlier checkpoint, which is false (unless the prior had not been properly visible).
Police officers were made aware of the protection scheme, and that as a result the occupants of the vehicle were being put at risk by being in the middle of a road late at night. The police were also informed of the appropriate protocols regarding a search, in that any search should be carried out at the nearest police station. Immediately the police demanded that the escort reveal the identity of the protected person. Upon lowering the windows of one of the police vans, a police officer with the surname BAEZ said he knew the person as a lawyer for the guerrillas in Velez and then went on to mention the names of the peasants who years before had been defended by the FSCPP lawyer.
Following these remarks, the officers began to make other comments along the lines that they were probably transporting weapons and “who knows what else” in the truck.
Then the police, under the command of Lieutenant ANDRES LEAL, began taking photographs and videos of human rights defenders and later took a breath test of the driver of the vehicle, which of course returned a negative result. They also proceeded to search the lawyer LEONARDO JAIMES, “transmit by radio” their identity cards (for all 3 individuals), ask about their age, marital status, and record all the information in a police officer´s notebook. This incident lasted approximately 25 minutes.
It is noteworthy that upon ending this “procedure” the police stopped arguing that they had missed a prior checkpoint and began to carry out practices more in line with a routine check. However, it should be made clear that:
a. During this length of time, no other vehicle was stopped and searched in this way, nor were other occupants searched or their identities verified.
b. The vehicle was not speeding. The characteristics of the road exclude this possibility.
c. The human rights defenders were never informed of possible road traffic offences , so it is striking that finally they took a breath test.
d. We find it extremely concerning that videos and photographs of the faces of human rights defenders, the driver and the vehicle are taken.
e. The insinuations made by the police that weapons and other items could be carried in the same vehicle as human rights defenders from the EJP are concerning.
f. We note that the road Bucaramanga – Curumaní – Bucaramanga, is frequently traveled by members of EJP in their capacity as human rights defenders.
Therefore, we can say that what happened is not a routine action by the police, the checkpoint that the police say that our colleagues overlooked does not exist and, most importantly, that this vehicle provided by the protection scheme is well known in this area due to their frequent travel.
We place this on the record, considering that this constitutes an irregular procedure and highly discriminatory treatment against human rights defenders which has endangered their safety.
Bogotá, September 30, 2013
LEGAL TEAM OF THE PEOPLE