Aug 3, 2012
Legislation that would hold foreign government officials accountable if they violate fundamental due process and human rights of imprisoned Americans by blocking the officials’ entry into the United States was unveiled today by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees international human rights.
Smith also blasted a congratulatory statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday, only one day after a congressional hearing was held on the ongoing plight of American Jacob Ostreicher, who has been held without formal charges or bail in Bolivia since June 2011. Clinton issued a statement, posted on the official website homepage of the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, honoring Bolivia’s Independence Day and claiming that “Respect for liberty and the protection of our rich cultural traditions are at the center of our relationship.” Click here to read Clinton’s statement.
“Jacob Ostreicher is languishing in a notorious, crime-ridden, filthy Bolivian prison, with no path to ‘liberty’ in sight, as Secretary Clinton has claimed,” Smith said. “Meanwhile there is no mention of Jacob’s case. Jacob has been in jail for over a year, with no opportunity to defend himself, as the government keeps interfering by blocking judges from even holding a simple bail hearing. Secretary Clinton adds insult to injury and indifference—she hasn’t said a word. It demonstrates indifference to the plight of an America unjustly held in Bolivia.
“The Bolivian Government has produced no evidence, either of any crime or that Mr. Ostreicher committed one,” Smith said. “He is being denied the most fundamental due process and human rights both under Bolivian law and international human rights standards.”
Smith’s bill, H.R. 6292, was introduced yesterday. It is entitled the “Justice for Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act,” or “Jacob’s Law,” and takes aim at foreign government officials responsible for violations of human rights and fundamental due process procedures of imprisoned U.S. citizens, as well as the officials’ immediate family members, by banning their travel to the United States while U.S. citizens unjustly languish in their prisons. H.R. 6292 in Spanish.
Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law a similar bill that Smith wrote banning travel to the U.S. of foreign officials, including government police, from the dictatorship of Belarus, if they are determined to be complicit with human rights violations in that country. That bill is called the “Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act .”
The Aug. 1 hearing was entitled “Seeking Freedom for American Trapped in Bolivian Prison.” Smith was asked to become involved in the case by Mr. Ostreicher’s daughter Chaya Weinberger, a Lakewood, N.J. resident who is a constituent in Smith’s congressional district. Click here to read the chairman’s statement. Witnesses included Yimy Montaño Villgomez, and Jerjes Justiniano Atalá, both from Bolivia and attorneys for Jacob Ostreicher; Miriam Ungar, Mr. Ostreicher’s wife, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Weinberger, Lakewood, N.J.; Steve Moore, former FBI Special Agent, known for his work in the Amanda Knox case. The testimonies can be read by clicking here.
. To watch video of the hearing, click on: Part I and Part II. (Note: for Part I, due to House floor votes, the hearing started late. Advance the recording one hour and 15 minutes to the 2:50 p.m. mark to see the start of the hearing.)
Moore testified that after investigating Jacob’s case, he could find no evidence at all that a crime occurred, or that Jacob had any connection to a crime.
His lawyers asserted Jacob is innocent, a U.S. businessman who went to Bolivia to develop an agricultural project and to create jobs with no idea it would lead to an illegal prosecution against him for the apparent sole purpose of appropriating all or part of his property. They stated that criminal behavior has occurred on the part of some Bolivian government officials who have abused their powers, and detained Jacob for extortion. They testified that there is not a single piece of concrete evidence against Jacob.