Dec 13, 2012
Nearly 50 family members of imprisoned American Jacob Ostreicher—parents, wife, daughters, son, grandchildren and in-laws—traveled to Washington D.C. today to call for their loved one, who has been detained without formal charges for over 18 months in Bolivia, to be set free.
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), a leading human rights leader in Congress, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (NY-12) held a press conference today on the steps of the Capitol, just days after returning from a bipartisan congressional delegation to Bolivia where they pressed of Jacob’s release. The Members unveiled a letter to Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, also signed by seven of their colleagues, calling for Jacob’s release.
In letter in part read: “We are writing to request that you take whatever legal action is necessary to secure the unconditional and immediate release of Mr. Jacob Ostreicher, an American who has been detained since June 4, 2011, without formal charges, in the Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz until he recently was transferred to the Incor Clinic in Santa Cruz…. . It is evident that there was no legal basis for his arrest and detention in June 2011. Despite the due process standard under both Bolivian and international law that a person is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, no evidence has been produced that Mr. Ostreicher committed any crime." Click here to view Cong. Smith's opening remarks
In a ruling Tuesday in Bolivia, judges requested that the lower court judge—whose decision not to grant Jacob bail was being considered on appeal—consider evidence that would exonerate Jacob of the baseless money-laundering allegations against him and to review the original basis for the detention order.
“We left Bolivia on Sunday optimistic that when Jacob appeared in court this past Tuesday that at the very least, he would make bail
,” said Smith, chairman of a U.S. congressional subcommittee that oversees international human rights. “It didn’t happen. The court remanded the case back to a lower court in yet another procedural delay that feels to Jacob and his family like an eternity. So today we appeal to the Bolivian Government to respect the fundamental human rights of Jacob. Jacob has been in prison for 18 months, no charge has been filed. Under Bolivian law, he should be free
“After 18 months, Jacob still has not been presented with any meaningful evidence, nor been given the opportunity to clear his name in a fair trial
,” Velazquez said. “It is my hope that the Bolivian government does the right thing by swiftly moving to release Jacob
Smith noted Jacob’s health is extremely frail.
“Jacob is very sick
,” Smith said. “He has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Our appeal is based on justice – he is an innocent man- and on grave humanitarian concerns
Last weekend Smith returned from his second congressional delegation to Bolivia, accompanied by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (NY-12). Smith has held two congressional hearings on the case, and also met with Ostreicher in June. Ostreicher is now especially frail, due in part to his hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. When meeting with him last week, Smith observed that Ostreicher’s health has deteriorated significantly since June, and in particular saw a noticeable trembling of Ostreicher’s hands which Smith had not observed during his previous visit.
During that visit in June, Smith met with the Bolivian Minister of Government, Carlos Romero, to detail Ostreicher’s story of injustice, including repeated court delays and complete lack of evidence against him. Romero told Smith he would investigate Jacob’s treatment. In the past week, eight people involved in the case have been arrested on charges of corruption, including the legal adviser to the Ministry of Government, Fernando Rivera. Smith personally observed Rivera interfering in the June court proceedings.
In Bolivia a person can be detained for a maximum of 18 months without formal charges, a mark Ostreicher passed last week. The government has yet to produce any evidence that Ostreicher committed a crime, and has still denied him bail. Smith is fighting to get him released, even if initially only on bail. During his ordeal, Ostreicher has additionally endured the confiscation of all the assets of the rice farming business in which he was an investor, including millions of pounds of rice.
Smith originally became involved in the case in May of this year, when it was brought to his attention by a constituent. In June before the human rights subcommittee he chairs, Smith held the first congressional hearing on Ostreicher’s plight. Also in June, prior to his own visit to Ostreicher in the Palmasola Prison in Bolivia, Smith formally requested that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson personally intervene on Ostreicher’s behalf. After visiting with Ostreicher at the prison, Smith met with high-ranking Bolivian officials, including Minister of Government Romero, Minister of Justice Cecilia Luisa Ayllon and Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde, to discuss the case.
Minister Romero committed to Smith to personally look into the injustices and irregularities of Ostreicher’s case. The efforts came to fruition in late November, and so far eight individuals involved in Ostreicher’s persecution, including government legal staff, have been arrested. Bolivian media recently reported
that Romero stated he first became interested in the case as a result of his meeting with Smith.
In August of 2012, Smith held a second hearing on Ostreicher’s case entitled “Seeking Freedom for American Trapped in Bolivian Prison
.” Chairman Smith also introduced “Jacob’s Law” (H.R. 6292
), based on Smith’s prior legislation, the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Authorization Act of 2011
(now P.L. 112-82
, signed into law in January 2012). Jacob’s Law would prohibit the travel of foreign officials and their families’ to the United States if those officials are known to be complicit in the violation of fundamental human and due process rights of Americans imprisoned in their home country. The legislation was introduced August 2, and referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs.