Prisoners Face Deplorable Jail Conditions After Judge Allows Terrorism Charges to Move Forward
Salvadoran organizations protest outside the womens prison in Illopango
On July 7, Judge Ana Lucila Fuentes de Paz of the Special Tribunal of San Salvador granted the government prosecutors request and decided to send 13 of the 14 people charged with terrorism to 90 days of preventative imprisonment. The prisoners were arrested on July 2 in a brutal police and military attack on a peaceful protest against the privatization of water in Suchitoto. At this time, the prisoners have not been indicted under any specific section of the anti-terrorism law, but are being held under charges of terrorism in general. One of the prisoners, Facundo Dolores Garcia was released on July 13 as the judge declared that there is no evidence that links him to acts of terrorism.
The FMLN delegation to the prison was able to gain a few concessions for the women, such as the ability to relocate to a slightly more comfortable part of the jail during the day. This visit highlights the coordinated and unified response of the FMLN and the social movement in El Salvador to this situation. There has been extensive collaboration to monitor the status of the case, the conditions of the prisoners, and exert pressure on the government to release the prisoners.
Families of the prisoners have organized demonstrations and mobilizations in solidarity with their relatives, to denounce the prison conditions and to demand their immediate release. The Families of the Political Prisoners Committee held a demonstration on Saturday outside the womens prison to denounce governmental repression. Edgar Mejia, whose wife Beatriz Nuila is one of the prisoners, stated this situation is evidence that once more in this country we are traveling down a dangerous road of repression and human rights violations. This committee is preparing a hunger strike outside the prison to accompany the political prisoner and create further pressure for their release.
Last week the new Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna called for revisions to the anti-terrorism law stating that the application of the anti-terrorism law at this time does not seem to me to be the most adequate given the actions. In response to his statements and to international pressure, President Saca announced his supposed openness to a revision of the anti-terrorism law, saying, I think thatthe law can be improved to more clearly define terrorism. However, this lack of clarity is exactly what the government is utilizing to hold the prisoners as terrorists without charging them with any specific violation of the law.
Saca has hurriedly asked ARENA deputies in the National Assembly to pass two reforms to the penal code, which would drastically increment jail time for public disorder. Currently, the jail time for such offenses is 6 months to 2 years, while Saca wants the assembly to increase it to 8-15 years. Cynically, ARENA officials are now stating there must be a separation between terrorist acts and acts of vandalism, likely because of mounting national and international pressure for having 13 people unjustly jailed for being terrorists. In response to this most recent proposal of increased jail time, FMLN deputy Walter Duran said that from a technical perspective it is inadmissible to try to establish such severe sentences. The President is showing that we are entering a time of civil dictatorship, announcing that his government will continue to respond to the increasing protest with more repression. The Cambio Democratico Party has also criticized Sacas desperate measures to silence social discontent, expressing the reforms Saca wants to make to the penal code is simply his inability to admit that the anti-terrorism charges are a major error on the part of the government.
On Wednesday, July 11 CISPES and U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities coordinated a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador in El Salvador, Charles Glazer, to pressure the embassy to make a public statement about the violation of civil and human rights around the terrorism charges. Ambassador Glazer himself attended the meeting with two other embassy staff a public affairs official and a political affairs official in charge of the elaboration of the embassys human rights reports. Despite CISPES members demonstrating media documentation of U.S. Embassy intervention in sovereign matters such as former Ambassador Barclay urging assembly approval of a wire tapping law and applauding the passage of the anti-terrorism law Glazer refused to make a public statement about the political prisoners and the dangers of conflating protest with terrorism.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. CISPES is working with other solidarity organizations Sister Cities, the SHARE Foundation, and Voices on the Border, among others to encourage U.S. Congressional Representatives to write a Dear Colleague letter expressing deep concern for the political prisoners and the violations of the freedom of speech and right to protest in El Salvador. There will also be a protest action at the Salvadoran Consulate in Boston on July 30. For more information on how to support the campaign to release the political prisoners, see www.cispes.org.