A judge in Colombia has ordered former President Alvaro Uribe released from house arrest while he is investigated for alleged witness tampering.
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Municipal Judge Clara Salcedo said in her ruling Saturday that the house arrest order could not be upheld in a new legal framework under which Uribe is being investigated.
Following his house arrest order, Uribe resigned his Senate seat, leading the court to transfer the case to the attorney general’s office, which critics say will be less rigorous.
“The decision adopted by this official is to agree to the request submitted by the defence, supported by the Attorney General’s Office and the representation of the public prosecutor and as such Dr Alvaro Uribe Velez will be granted his immediate freedom,” Salcedo said in her ruling.
“Thank God,” Uribe tweeted after the decision was announced.
Gracias a Dios
— Álvaro Uribe Vélez (@AlvaroUribeVel) October 10, 2020
The case has sparked long-simmering tensions about Uribe’s legacy in Colombia and how to handle those suspected of crimes during the nation’s long conflict between the state, paramilitary groups and leftist guerrillas that left hundreds of thousands dead or missing.
Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010, and several allies are being investigated for allegations of witness tampering carried out in an attempt to discredit accusations he had ties to right-wing paramilitaries.
Uribe, a mentor to current Colombian President Ivan Duque, has denied the allegations.
In August, Human Rights Watch called on Duque’s government to respect the Supreme Court’s house arrest order, calling it “a critical test” for the country.
“Uribe’s house arrest is the most critical stress test for the rule of law in Colombia in the last decade,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s Americas director, said in a statement at the time.
“The Duque administration and the ruling party need to respect the court’s decision and independence by ensuring that president Uribe defends himself through the legal process, not through threats of judicial reform and groundless accusations.”
Political analyst Sergio Guzman of Colombia Risk Analysis told the Reuters News Agency on Saturday that Uribe’s critics would likely lay “the lion’s share of the blame” for the court’s decision on the attorney general’s office and the way it has handled the case.
The court’s decision was welcomed by United States President Donald Trump, who tweeted his congratulations to Uribe and called the ex-Colombian president “a hero”.
“We are pleased to hear that former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has been released from house arrest,” Trump’s presidential campaign also said in a statement. “In August, Vice President Mike Pence called for Uribe, who is a hero, to be allowed to defend himself as a free man.”