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UN experts call on Colombia to stop ‘misusing’ counter-terrorism measures to prosecute protesters

A group of UN experts has called on Colombia to stop “misusing” counter-terrorism measures and serious criminal offenses, such as terrorism, to prosecute individuals taking part in protests against government policies.

“The use of such egregious charges to prosecute violent conduct during protests poses a serious threat to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to the legitimacy of international counter-terrorism frameworks and laws,” the experts said on Tuesday. “It has a chilling effect and encourages vilification campaigns against protest movements in the country.”

According to information provided to the experts, 228 protesters who participated in the protests of 2021 have been charged with severe offenses like terrorism and conspiracy to commit crimes, for which some face sentences of more than 22 years in prison.

More than 180 protesters are still incarcerated or under house detention, the experts said and added that detainees include peaceful protesters and young people “who allegedly damaged public and private property, engaged in violent and destructive acts.”

Condemning the violence during protests, the experts said violent individuals must be dealt with fairly and in accordance with international human rights standards.

“Prison sentences for non-violent protest activity and the exercise of human rights, including freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, are always disproportionate, and therefore incompatible with international human rights law,” they concluded.

In 2021, a series of mass protests were held against a proposed tax hike in Colombia.

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