American Businessman Trapped in Bolivia Topic of House Hearing
Smith to introduce “Jacob’s Law,’ legislation banning travel of foreign officials complicit w/ human rights violations of U.S. citizens
The plight of American Jacob Ostreicher, who has been held without formal charges or bail in Bolivia since June 2011, was the focus of a hearing chaired by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House human rights subcommittee that oversees international human rights, Wednesday.
“The Subcommittee continues to shine a spotlight on and to search for a resolution of the extreme injustice being perpetrated by Bolivian government officials against Jacob Ostreicher, an American trapped in the infamous Palmasola prison,” said Smith, chairman of the House panel that . “Charged with crimes for which the Bolivian Government has produced no evidence, either of the crimes themselves or that Mr. Ostreicher committed either one, he is being denied the most fundamental due process and human rights both under Bolivian law and international human rights standards. Click here to read the chairman’s statement.
Smith announced that he will introduce legislation this week to hold foreign government officials who are responsible for the violation of due process and human rights of imprisoned Americans accountable. The bill, entitled the “Justice for Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act,” or “Jacob’s Law,” takes aim at foreign government officials responsible for violations human rights and fundamental due process procedures of imprisoned U.S. citizens, as well as their immediate family members, by banning their travel to the United States while U.S. citizens unjustly languish in their prisons.
The 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.
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.)
“Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, let's show my father that his dreams will become a reality,” said Weinberger. “Show him and the world that America is what it professes to be, a country that stands for liberty; a land that will fight for her citizens. A country that will not allow its innocent citizen be kept hostage in a foreign country and won't let anyone stand in her quest for truth. Prove that American citizenship is a commodity worth having and that the star spangled banner will triumph once again over those who mock all she stands for. That she will not stay in my father’s cell in the Palmasola prison, but will rather be carried back with my father to the greatest nation on Earth.”
Witnesses testifying were: Yimy Montaño Villgomez, of Bolivia, an attorney for Jacob Ostreicher; Jerjes Justiniano Atalá, of Bolivia, also an attorney for Jacob Ostreicher; Miriam Ungar, Mr. Ostreicher’s wife, of Brooklyn, NY; Weinberger, Lakewood, NJ; Steve Moore, former FBI Special Agent, known for his work in the Amanda Knox case. The testimonies can be read by clicking here.
“I must express my firm belief that Mr. Jacob is an innocent man,” said Montaño, one of Jacob’s lawyers in Bolivia who traveled to Washington to attend the hearing. “That is why I agreed to defend your citizen, who came to my country to develop an agricultural project and to create jobs without ever imagining that this would lead to his incredible and illegal prosecution for the sole purpose of appropriating all or part of his property. This criminal behavior has been assumed by some government officials and public servants who, abusing their powers, have detained Mr. Jacob to extort him and achieve their purposes.”
His other lawyer also came to the U.S. to speak at the hearing.
“I thoroughly analyzed all the evidence that was against him, which is why I finally decided to accept the case, given that there does not exist a single concrete evidence against him, direct and convincing to prove the offenses alleged,” said Justiniano. “I do not understand how an American citizen can be treated this way, having invested in Bolivia and given jobs to indigenous Bolivians, reaching higher salaries than the government itself pays to the police. All of this only shows that there is a great illegality and injustice.”