The plight of American businessman Jacob Ostreicher--held in Bolivia for over one year without formal charges and without bail at a dangerous prison run by inmates--was likened to “state-sponsored kidnapping” at a human rights hearing chaired today by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). The congressional panel Smith chairs gave voice to his desperate wife and daughter, and heard testimony from a former federal law enforcement agent familiar with the case.
“Today, we are undertaking the sobering task of defending the human rights of one of our own fellow citizens,” said Smith, a leading human rights advocate in the U.S. Congress. “We all must do everything we can to correct the ongoing, extreme injustice being perpetrated against Mr. Ostreicher and secure his freedom as quickly as possible. But this responsibility rests primarily with the U.S. State Department. Our embassy and consular affairs personnel are in country, have direct and regular contact with host government officials, and have access to local information that is of critical importance to the safety and security of our citizens.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.
Miriam Ungar, wife of Ostreicher, the 53 year old American citizen incarcerated in Santa Cruz, Bolivia since June 2011, told Smith: “Mr. Chairman, Jacob’s human rights have been violated with every postponement, every denial and every minute he remains in that prison.”
“I was in Bolivia from June 12, 2011 until October 23, 2011,” Ungar told the committee. “I was also in Bolivia several times prior to Jacob’s arrest and have been back several times since. I am here to tell you that my husband has been incarcerated on unsubstantiated accusations for more than 12 months.” Click here to read Ms. Ungar’s testimony.
Ostricher’s daughter, Chaya Weinberger, of Lakewood, N.J., visited the Bolivian prison where her father is being held on numerous occasions and witnessed the dangerous conditions in which he lives. Her five children miss their grandfather and don’t understand why he can’t come home.
“Although I find it difficult to speak about such a personal matter, I do so for my father, Jacob Ostreicher, who is an upstanding American citizen begging his country to intervene on his behalf,” Weinberger said. “He, together with all those who love him and want him home are waiting. We are waiting to see the demonstration of liberty on which our country is based upon. We are anticipating seeing justice emerge. We are hoping that our country won’t let us down.” Click here to read Ms. Weinberger’s testimony.
Former FBI agent Steve Moore, known for his work on the Amanda Knox case in Italy, told the human rights panel that he was not being paid to testify here and was not in the service of the Ostreicher family. He said he has only taken up cases of people who are demonstrably innocent.
“I have taken on only those where the individual is demonstratively and provably innocent and has no other recourse,” Moore said. “Jacob Ostreicher is one of those few people. I have seen all the Bolivian’s self-described ‘evidence’ against him, and I have seen the evidence which supports his innocence. In Jacob’s case there is a complete absence of any concrete, tangible evidence on even a microscopic scale which would indicate that he had in any way shape or form participated in a crime in Bolivia. Nor is there even evidence that a crime has even been committed.
Moore stated that “In the Knox case, we had rooms full of tainted and fabricated evidence to argue. But in the Ostreicher case, we have no valid evidence to even argue against.” He also said the American’s imprisonment is effectively “state-sponsored kidnapping” and noted that even more threatening than Ostreicher’s faltering health is “a quick and unexpected death at the hands of prisoners.” Click here to read Moore’s opening testimony.
(To watch the June 6 hearing, click here. Advance approximately 22 minutes to the 10:09 a.m. mark to view the start of the hearing.)
Last week Smith made a formal request of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to personally intervene in the case of Ostreicher, who has been held without formal charges in Bolivia since June 2011. The Assistant Secretary was in Cochabamba, Bolivia for a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly from June 3-5. Click here to read the full letter.
Mr. Ostreicher, a U.S. businessman who went to Bolivia to engage in a business venture, was arrested on June 3, 2011, and remains in Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz. At least 15 judicial hearings have been scheduled in his case, but only three transpired. Although the Bolivian government has produced no evidence that Mr. Ostreicher has committed any crime, there is no indication that it is preparing to release him. Under Bolivian law, he could languish in prison for another six months on preliminary, unsubstantiated charges connected to a police investigation.
Information about the case can be found on a website run by the family and supporters of Mr. Ostreicher at http://freejacobnow.com/intro.html