Yesterday (November 23, 2013), in Puerto Rico, thousands demonstrated for the release of Oscar López Rivera; protesters marched from the grounds of the Federal Court (Chardón Street, Hato Rey) to the Hiram Bithorn Stadium. It was estimated that around 40,000 people attended and/or participated in the demonstration. There were also marches in New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
As attorney Jan Susler writes, Oscar López Rivera has “the unenviable distinction of being the longest held Puerto Rican political prisoner in the history of the nation’s independence movement.” See video below and the following summary, taken from a presentation by Susler at the Congress on Human Rights held in San Juan, Puerto Rico on December 10, 2012 (see People’s Law Office link below).
In 1980, eleven men and women were arrested and later charged with the overtly political charge of seditious conspiracy — conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico by force, by membership in the FALN, and of related charges of weapons possession and transporting stolen cars across state lines. Oscar was not arrested at the time, but he was named as a codefendant in the indictment. His co-defendants were sentenced to terms in prison ranging between 55 and 90 years, consecutive to state court sentences for the same underlying conduct. The judge stated his regret that he did not have the power to give them the death penalty. In 1981, Oscar was arrested after a traffic stop, tried for the identical seditious conspiracy charge, convicted, and sentenced by the same judge to a prison term of 55 years. In 1987 he received a consecutive 15 year term for conspiracy to escape–a plot conceived and carried out by government agents and informants/provocateurs, resulting in a total sentence of 70 years.
Upon arrest, Oscar took the same position his co-defendants had taken, asserting that under international law, U.S. colonial control over Puerto Rico was a crime against humanity, that the courts of the U.S. had no jurisdiction to try him as a criminal, and that he should be remanded to an impartial international tribunal to have his status judged. While this position was recognized by international judicial bodies and other international fora8, the U.S. government refused to recognize it and proceeded to try him for criminal offenses. As his co-defendants had done, he presented no defense and pursued no appeal.
Disproportionate sentences: Oscar, like all Puerto Rican independentistas in U.S. custody, is punished for his beliefs and affiliations, for who he is, not for any act he committed. Government statistics evidence that those who commit non-political criminal offenses receive far lower sentences than do independence fighters. For example, in 1981, the year Oscar was sentenced for seditious conspiracy, the average federal sentence for murder was 10.3 years. Though he was not accused or convicted of hurting or killing anyone, his sentence was more than five times the average sentence for murder. His 15 year sentence for conspiracy to escape is even more disproportionate. Conspiracy to escape is apparently so rare that the government doesn’t even maintain statistics, so we are left to compare his sentence to those for actual escape: Oscar’s sentence is more than 8 times longer than the average sentence for escape.
Not surprisingly, Oscar has been held in prison far longer than those convicted of violent felonies. By the mid 1990′s, the average time actually served in prison by those convicted in federal court of violent felonies was just above four years; 11 by the late 1990′s, for federal convictions of murder/manslaughter the average time served was 10.8 years. Oscar’s imprisonment for more than 31 years in prison gives him the unique and unenviable distinction of being the longest held Puerto Rican political prisoner in the history of the nation’s independence movement.
See video on the march here: http://www.elnuevodia.com/videos-noticias-milesmarchanporoscarlopez-153726.html#.UpF2WXyH3HA.facebook
Photo above from http://www.contrainjerencia.com/?p=70144
Also see previous posts Freedom for Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera: The “32 x Oscar” Project, Book Review: Puerto Rican Independentista Oscar López Rivera’s 32 Years of Resistance to Torture, and Puerto Ricans Demonstrate in Fake Prison Cells for Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera