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MPs demand action to halt jailing of Colombia activists

LABOUR MPs demanded yesterday that British ministers take action over the thousands of campaigners and trade unionists imprisoned for political reasons in Colombia. 

Trade union group chairman Ian Lavery and Leeds East MP Richard Burgon both raised the abuses at foreign and commonwealth questions. 

Mr Lavery told the Commons how Huber Ballesteros, leader of the Patriotic March opposition party, had been jailed since August 2013. 

“His case is emblematic of the thousands of human rights activists who are repeatedly intimidated for their work for social justice and support for marginalised groups,” he said. 

Members of the Justice for Colombia (JfC) campaign believe there are now about 4,000 political prisoners, most accused of “rebellion” for alleged links with Marxist liberation movement the Farc. 

Some 24 campaigners have also been killed in Colombia this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights confirmed last month. 

Despite government violence, opposition groups have pressed ahead with peace talks and the Farc has called a unilateral ceasefire from July 20.

Mr Burgon said ministers should urge Bogota to “agree a bilateral ceasefire as soon as possible to create the necessary conditions for successful outcome to the talks and reduce the human cost and suffering of the population.”

Tory Foreign Minister Hugo Swire said he had raised rights violations with his Colombian counterpart at a summit in Brussels last month.

He said: “I welcome the Colombian government’s efforts to improve the human rights situation, but we remain concerned at the numbers of murders and threats against human rights defenders.”

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