A voice that won’t be silenced

The bright sunshine and the unusually clear blue sky above Bogotá contrasted sharply with the greyness and gloom of La Picota prison located in the far south of the city. The prison guards shuffled through papers, recorded our names, took fingerprints, and reviewed our prison pass, before granting us access to the wing in which David Ravelo Crespo is being held. I had first heard of David when I began interning with Front Line Defenders in October 2010 and now as a PBI field volunteer I would have the opportunity to meet him. Although part of me is excited to finally meet this charismatic human rights defender, I am also filled with regret that although we have been working on his case for over two years he is still in prison.

David Ravelo before his imprisonment in 2010.
David Ravelo before his imprisonment in 2010.

The mundane prison patio suddenly comes to life when the prisoners see my colleague and I standing outside the wing gate. Dozens of voices begin to shout up through the crowded balconies and stairway “David Ravelo, David Ravelo…”. We wait a few moments while the prisoners continue to call anxiously, and then from the busy stairway a humble man approaches the prison gate with a warm smile, a spring in his step, and books under his arm. He greets us with a hug, a heartfelt handshake, and tells us in a friendly familiar voice how great it is to see us. He immediately arranges for a prison guard to bring us coffee and invites us to sit outside the grey prison wing on the grass, from where you can hear and see the bustling outside world go by. The houses extend into the hills surrounding Bogotá, the traffic rushes past on the motorway nearby, the cows lazily graze in the grass, and although there may be an allusion of freedom sitting here under the hot sun, the hostile barbed wire fence surrounding us quickly shatters this, reminding us that we are in a prison.

David discusses his case, his family, the human rights situation in Barrancabermeja; we mention the nomination for the Front Line Defenders award, and his face lights up. He appears to be trilled to have been selected among the other finalists. He then moves on to discuss literature; he tells us he has been reading a lot in prison. We discuss Ernest Hemmingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Julio Cortazar among other writers. He shows us poetry he has written, using this as an outlet to express himself. He is defiant that even from inside the prison he will never be silenced, raising his voice in the defence of human rights. I find myself in awe of this man who has been in prison for over two years and instead of complaining, he focused on the positive side of things. There is an appeal coming up and therefore more work to be done to insure that his freedom is secured. There is no bitterness or sadness in his voice, just hope and optimism about what lies ahead.

After leaving David I find myself very moved and touched by the strength of his character. It’s difficult to comprehend how he continues to smile in the face of such conditions. Since David is adamant that he won’t be silenced, we must do all we can to insure his voice is heard, highlighting his struggle for justice in this crucial period leading up to his appeal.

– Niamh

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