Colombian Indians protest against “illegal” imprisonment of leader

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A prominent Colombian indigenous leader has been jailed for sixteen years, in a move that has been criticized as “a severe blow to Colombia’s democracy”.

Feliciano Valencia, a Nasa Indian from Colombia’s conflict-ridden Cauca region, is accused of kidnapping a soldier during an indigenous-led protest in 2008.

The soldier was detained by the Nasa Indians’ legally recognized “Indigenous Guard” after he infiltrated a protest undercover. He was sentenced under the Nasa’s own justice system and released a week later.

The Nasa say they informed the soldier’s family and superiors of his arrest, and the sentence was carried out in accordance with Colombia’s constitutional law, which upholds indigenous peoples’ right to their own customary legal system.

Valencia has been at the forefront of the indigenous rights movement in Colombia. His homeland in the western Cauca province is one of the most violent regions of the country, and has been overrun with guerrillas, paramilitaries and the armed forces.

A lack of evidence supporting the case against Valencia, and his unusually long jail term, have been widely condemned as evidence that his sentence is politically motivated.

National Indigenous Organization ONIC has called Valencia’s arrest: “(part of) the systematic criminalization and persecution of our social movements (and) an attack on peace and social justice.”

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, is urging the Colombian government to release Feliciano Valencia, and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights in accordance with Colombian and international law.

Click here to watch an exclusive interview with Valencia filmed in jail by the ONIC.