Just weeks ago, Colombian human rights activist Principe Gabriel Gonzalez Arango was making the rounds in Washington -- meeting with senior State Department officials, testifying before Congress -- and being feted in New York for his work on behalf of political prisoners and the steep personal price he has paid for his advocacy. Now he is facing seven years in prison.
Gonzalez, who had been providing inmates with educational and social services, was arrested in 2006 and charged with the standard smear against activists who are thorns in the government's side: being a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a drug-trafficking terrorist group. The FARC, which has been waging its guerrilla war for 50 years, is so widely loathed that just the allegation of rebel allegiance is life-threatening. More than one human rights activist, although cleared by the courts, has been murdered by vigilantes.
Gonzalez was jailed for 15 months while awaiting trial, then a judge threw out the charges, calling them utterly baseless. The government, however, appealed his acquittal, and a district court overturned the lower court's decision; it sentenced Gonzalez to prison. Days later, he lost his appeal of that ruling when Colombia's Supreme Court refused to hear his case.