COLOMBIA

Colombian police force two young protesters into unmarked cars

These are screengrabs taken from videos filmed on December 10, 2019 near the Universidad Nacional de Bogota in Colombia that show police forcing young people into unmarked cars and driving off. (Videos posted on Twitter)
These are screengrabs taken from videos filmed on December 10, 2019 near the Universidad Nacional de Bogota in Colombia that show police forcing young people into unmarked cars and driving off. (Videos posted on Twitter)

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Videos posted online show police officers forcing two young protesters into unmarked cars while demonstrations were taking place in Bogota on December 10. The videos have caused quite a scandal in Colombia, where police practice has come under fire over the past three weeks.

An unprecedented protest movement swept across Colombia on November 21 with people taking to the streets to condemn the policies of the current government. Since then, there have been protests held every day in cities across the country. Human rights organizations have denounced the frequent police crackdowns on these protests.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Colombia: Videos show night of police violence in one Bogotá neighbourhood

A new wave of anger at the police started on the evening of December 10, when three videos were posted online. The videos, filmed near the Universidad Nacional de Bogota, showed clashes between police and protesters.

"Help! The police have taken me!"

The first two videos were filmed by a couple that were just driving through the area; they were not part of the protests.

The video below shows officers from the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), a special police unit, pushing a girl into an unmarked car and then starting the engine. (Click here to see the exact location where this happened.)

The couple starts to follow them.

"We don’t know where they are taking her,” whispers the woman.

The couple pulls up to the side of the car and the girl yells out the window, “Help! The police have taken me!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll stay right behind you,” says the man.

The second video shows the girl waving her hand while still in the back of the car, which then comes to a halt in the middle of the road. (Check out the exact location where this occurred here.) She gets out of the car and then climbs in with the couple. She’s crying.

“I have to go back,” she says while crying. “I was with my boyfriend. They arrested him.”

There is some overlap between these two videos. The last 57 seconds of the first video and the first 57 seconds of the second video show the same sequence of events.

The couple who filmed these videos told a local radio station that they decided to follow the car when they saw that its windows were tinted as they feared that something might happen to the girl.

Police also force a young man into an unmarked car

A third video filmed on the same day was also posted online. (Check out the exact location where this took place by clicking here.) Our team found a longer, better-quality version of this video, which clearly shows police pushing a young man into an unmarked car.

“ESMAD officers just forced a young man into a car. I can’t see the licence plate,” says the man who filmed the video.

Then, the police start the car.

 

"I heard the young man yelling that they wanted to take him away”

The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke with the man who filmed the video :

Around 9:30pm, about thirty police motorcycles pulled up. They surrounded a young man – I don’t know why – and pushed back the other people who were there.

A few minutes later, a car pulled up. A man wearing civilian clothes got out and walked towards them. At first, I thought it was maybe a family member of the young man who was coming to get him out of trouble. Then, I saw him heading back to the car with the young man. But the young man pulled away and escaped. That’s when I saw that the man wearing civilian clothes had a radio and he called on other officers to help him catch the young man. Then, I heard the young man yelling that they were trying to take him away. That’s when I started filming.

María Fernanda Pérez Ramírez, the young woman in the first two videos, managed to get away from the police that night and, very quickly, her identity became known to the public. However, it wasn’t until December 12 that several local media outlets managed to identify the young man in the third video. His name is Carlos Russi and, eventually, he had been freed. He said that the police had hit him while he was in the car.

 

Why did these videos spark a scandal?

Numerous experts told El Tiempo that it is “illegal” to transport people under arrest in unmarked cars. This whole business has made people incredibly nervous, especially in a country where there are frequent kidnappings and the police have already been found responsible for forced disappearances in the past.

Human rights groups have also decried the fact that the two young people were arrested even though they didn’t seem to have committed any crime or to represent a danger to society.

…many Colombians are wondering why officers let her get out of the car, if her arrest was lawful?

The Office of the Inspector General of Colombia launched an investigation into the “alleged unlawful arrest” of the young woman. At the same time, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the authorities to respect arrest procedures laid out by the law and to respect the right to protest.

The police respond

On December 11, the commander of Bogota’s metropolitan police, Hoover Penilla, responded to the incident involving the young woman. He claimed that the unmarked car had been used lawfully.

He claimed that the unmarked car had randomly been in the area and so it was used to transport the young woman because there were no other cars available at the time. He said that she had been arrested so that she could be “identified” and so authorities could “determine the reason why she was participating in the blockade” near the university.

He said that the officers had let her go when faced with pressure from citizens. However, Penilla saw letting her go as an “error” and said that his officers should have followed procedure all the way through.

Penilla did not offer up an explanation for the arrest of the young man, instead saying that people “shouldn’t question everything that police officers [do].”

ESMAD has come under fierce criticism for its violent repression of protests and there have been many calls for it to be dissolved and disbanded. The topic was even brought up during a debate in the Colombian Congress on December 11.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Colombia: Videos show night of police violence in one Bogotá neighbourhood

 

Article by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).