Nova Scotia

Former Halifax resident facing terrorism, sedition charges in Bolivia

The family of a former Halifax resident who has been charged with sedition and terrorism in Bolivia fear he could be arrested at any time, and they're pleading with the Canadian government to intervene.

Family of Juan Tellez calling on Canadian government to intervene in his case

Juan Tellez, a Canadian citizen and former professor at Saint Mary's University, was charged on Aug. 19 in Bolivia. (Rosario Valda V.)

The family of a former Halifax resident who has been charged with sedition and terrorism in Bolivia fear he could be arrested at any time, and they're calling on the Canadian government to intervene in his case. 

Juan Tellez, a Canadian citizen and former professor at Saint Mary's University, was charged with sedition, terrorism and crimes against public health on Aug. 19 and ordered to show up at the prosecutor's office on Monday. 

Tellez is a member of the Movement for Socialism Party (MAS) in Bolivia and was charged along with seven other party members. His daughter says it's an act of political persecution carried out by an interim president that's targeted and detained hundreds of opposition members.

"I know people who have had their family members taken hostage, you know, people have had their houses burned, and we're especially concerned about the possibility of his detention because he is an insulin-dependent diabetic," Christina Tellez, who lives in Halifax, told CBC's Information Morning on Monday. 

"Detention for him, especially in the times of the pandemic, could potentially be fatal."

Christina Tellez, pictured with her father Juan Tellez, still lives in Halifax. (Christina Tellez)

Tellez said her father's cellphone was confiscated on Monday when he responded to the summons, and she's now trying to find a way to stay in contact with him from thousands of kilometres away.

While she's relieved her father wasn't detained when he appeared before prosecutors, she's worried he could be arrested at any time.

The details of the charges remain vague and the family is still trying to figure out what exactly Juan Tellez is up against, she said. 

Bolivia has been in a state of political unrest since president Evo Morales resigned and fled the country in November after accusations of election fraud. In the months since, interim president Jeanine Áñez has pushed back the election date, prompting protests and roadblocks.

"Since her government came into power in November 2019, it's been creating a climate of fear through massive human rights violations," said Christina Tellez.

She pointed to a report by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, which found some 150 former government officials in Bolivia were charged in the first few months of Áñez's government.

Immigrated to Halifax in 1990

Tellez began travelling to Nova Scotia in the mid-1980s and immigrated to Halifax from Bolivia in 1990. He raised his family in the city and worked as a university professor for decades.

His community development work began taking him back to Bolivia in 2006 and he returned to his home country permanently in 2014. In 2015, Tellez was elected mayor of the rural municipality of Betanzos, where he grew up.

"I'm hoping that the community members here in Halifax who know him, who know the important work he's done in Nova Scotia … will be able to support him if worst comes to worst and he is detained," Christina Tellez said.

Bolivia has been in a state of political unrest since the resignation of president Evo Morales in November. Now, a former SMU professor has been charged with sedition and terrorism there, in what his daughter fears is an act of political persecution. 8:31

Kathryn Ledebur, the director of Andean Information Network in Bolivia, said the charges against Juan Tellez are further proof that the interim government is trying to silence the opposition leading up to elections in October.

"This is a systematic persecution and Juan, who has been in no way involved in illegal activity, has been sucked into this whirlwind," she said Tuesday.

'High time' for Canada to intervene

Ledebur, who has known Tellez for over 20 years, said people in his position have been arrested in the past with no notice. She said people can face very serious charges for simply supporting the MAS party on social media.

"This is something that's crucial for Canadian authorities to take part in," Ledebur said. "It's their job at the Canadian Embassy to guarantee that the due process rights, and the human rights, of its citizens are taken care of."

When Añez took power in November, the Canadian government hesitated to support her interim administration at first, but eventually did on the condition that it hold free and fair elections.

The Canadians stopped short of formally recognizing Añez's presidency, unlike the U.S.

A woman prays outside the Cathedral of La Paz, following the announcement of Bolivia president Evo Morales's resignation in November 2019. (Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters)

Ledebur said the fact the Bolivian government is willing to charge a Canadian citizen is deeply concerning and shows how confident the regime is in persecuting people who oppose them.

"Part of this crisis, I think, is on the shoulders of an international community, the Canadian government, the U.S. government, many other governments that didn't speak out on time, and didn't hold the Bolivian government accountable," she said. "It's high time for them to do that."

Jason Kung, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the department is aware of Tellez's case "and is closely monitoring the situation."

"Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed," Kung said.

On Aug. 19, former Halifax resident Juan Tellez was charged with crimes in Bolivia in what his family fears is an act of political persecution. Kathryn Ledebur with the Andean Information Network says the Canadian government can't wait to intervene. 6:58

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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