EspañolTwo Venezuelan student activists, Lorent Enrique Gómez Saleh and Gabriel Valles, were captured by Colombian migration officials and, upon handover, arrested by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service of Venezuela late last week. Although in custody, they did not appear at their hearing yesterday, and their current whereabouts remain unknown.
Gómez Saleh was the president of an anti-Chavista NGO, Operation Freedom — known in Venezuela for leading many student protests and hunger strikes against Nicolás Maduro’s regime. His organization’s twitter page claims that he had been followed and even tortured by government authorities, motivating his escape to Colombia in February.
In a video of his arrest, filmed by fellow activist and Operation Freedom member Gabriel Valles, Saleh yelled at the camera: “President Juan Manuel Santos is conspiring with the Venezuelans, handing over students to the Venezuelan authorities. I hold Immigration responsible for violating our human rights!”
The Colombian chancellor said that the two students were involved in activities that were not permitted under their student and tourist visas. According to Elizabeth Reyes, a spokesperson for the Chancellor’s office, Gómez Saleh also overstayed his approved 90-day period.
In August, he paid a fine to customs that allowed him 10 days to resolve his immigration status, but he was not able to do so. Gomez Saleh’s mother, Yamile Saleh, reported that her son was in the process of applying for political asylum in Colombia.
Reyes said that students were participating in “proselytizing,” which is “expressly prohibited under Colombian migration law.” Most recently, she alleged, Gómez Saleh provoked “personal aggression towards public officials,” in an altercation with Senator and former M-19 guerrilla Antonio Navarro.
Operation Freedom had expanded its operations since moving its headquarters to Colombia six months ago, gaining international attention and broadening its criticism from the Venezuelan regime to the Colombian government’s efforts to negotiate with the FARC. In fact, ex-president and opponent of current president Juan Manuel Santos, Alvaro Veléz Uribe, was one of the first to speak out against the students’ arrest:
Tutela que evite expulsión de estudiantes de Vnzla haría respetar Pacto de Derechos Civiles y Políticos de 1966
— Álvaro Uribe Vélez (@AlvaroUribeVel) September 8, 2014
Thousands of twitter users have come out in support of Operation Freedom, urging officials to find Gomez Saleh and Valles and hold both the Colombian and Venezuelan governments accountable for violating human rights.