Irishmen get 17 years for training Colombia rebels
Three Irishmen have been given sentences of up to 17 ½ years in Colombia after they were convicted on appeal of training Marxist rebels.
James Monaghan (58), Niall Connolly (38) and Martin McCauley (41) were found guilty in a Bogota court on April 26th of travelling on false passports but acquitted of the more serious charge of training members of the FARC group.
After the April verdict, Colombian prosecutors immediately appealed the decision and today learned they were successful. Both Monaghan and Connolly were jailed for 17 1/2 years, while McCauley was given a 17-year term.
The three were arrested in August 2001 at Bogota's international airport after leaving the rebel stronghold around San Vicente del Caguan. The men denied being members of the IRA and claimed they were in Colombia to observe the peace process.
The men have been living in a secret location since April awaiting the appeal decision. An arrest warrant has been issued for their arrest this evening but their whereabouts are unknown.
Bring Them Home campaign group spokeswoman and Sinn Féin MLA, Ms Caitriona Ruane, told a press conference in Belfast this evening that the decision was a "mammoth miscarriage of justice".
"I have spoken to the families of the three men. This is a decision they were not expecting," she said.
"Today's decision by Colombian magistrates is a mammoth miscarriage of justice. It should never have happened. This was three judges reading the documents from the court and you all know the lack of evidence that was given in that court.
"This is a political decision, a blatant miscarriage of justice.
"I am calling on the Irish government, at the highest level, to intervene to defend the rights of Jim Monaghan, Martin McAuley and Niall Connolly.
"The campaign to free the Colombia Three will now be intensified. We will be involving human rights and civil liberty groups across the world in a determined effort to expose the injustice done today and to secure the safe return of these three Irishmen."
Mr Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin said the verdict was a " breath-taking denial of justice".
"It was obvious to anyone who followed the trial that the men had no case to answer on the major charge," he said.
Sinn Féin president, Mr Gerry Adams said in a statement: This is a grievous miscarriage of justice, which will come as no great surprise given the record of Human Rights abuses by the Columbian government."
Fine Gael's justice spokesman, Mr Jim O'Keeffe, called on the Government to conduct an "objective examination" of the judicial process in the case.
"Given that this case concerns three Irish citizens, and the claims of unfairness regarding the judicial process involved, the Government should initiate an objective investigation of the process," he said.
A spokesperson at the Department of Foreign Affairs told ireland.comthat it was aware of the reports this evening and was monitoring the situation but said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern would not comment ahead of official confirmation of the sentencing.
Describing the decision as a "complete travesty of justice", Senator Mary White said she intended discussing the issue with the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern tomorrow. The Senator, who attended the men's trial, added that their families did not know whether the three were still in Columbia as they have not been heard from since June.
The case had profound implications for the Northern Ireland peace process and helped precipitate the suspension of the Assembly when the men were originally arrested in 2001.