This afternoon I received a letter from Sally Hunt, general secretary of my union – UCU, asking me to help support Colombian academic and political prisoner Dr Miguel Beltrán. Dr Beltrán was arrested in Mexico, where he was a post-doctoral researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and illegally extradited to Colombia in May 2009. Since then he has spent 22 months in a high security prison accused of ‘rebellion’ and supporting the FARC.

This May his trial will finally begin. After almost two years of incarceration. Yet the evidence seems to be that Dr Beltrán is, like so many in Colombia, being silenced not because of genuine links to terrorism but because of his political views. As the open letter from the UCU states:

We know that Dr. Beltrán’s academic work was critical of the Colombian regime, and it appears that like so many in Colombia, he has been jailed in order to silence him and discourage others like him from speaking out.

We believe that critical thought and freedom of expression are crucial to any truly democratic society, however Dr Beltrán’s ongoing detention demonstrates that in Colombia these are treated as criminal.

In a letter to the Parliamentary Friends of Colombia Group Dr Beltrán said:

The persecution against political and social opposition has been and continues to be a constant of national life, as nearly 7,000 political prisoners are today held in different prisons in the country, in appalling conditions, suffering inhumane treatment that violates the minimum standards of respect and guarantees for the rights of people deprived of liberty.

Colombia remains one of the most dangerous places for trade unionists to organise; in 2009 nearly half of all unionists killed worldwide were in Colombia. This year alone, three education trade unionists have been killed, all with no response from the government.

Yet Colombia is a country with whom just last week president Obama signed a free-trade deal because, as John Murphy of the US Chamber of Commerce said,

The bottom line is that Colombia is a booming market that has moved into one of the top 15 U.S. export markets in the world, but it could be even more

As always, trade and profit trump support for basic human rights, like the ability to organise without being shot, or writing critically about such atrocities and calling for a genuinely democratic and peaceful society.

If you want to sign the UCU’s letter in support of Dr Beltrán you can do so here. Please do.