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Five Lawyers in Peru Freed

Lima, Peru--

There is good news in the struggle to defend the Peruvian lawyers who are under attack from the U.S.backed Fujimori regime for their courageous work in defending political prisoners. A trial for six of the defense lawyers ended in acquittal. On September 20, five of the lawyers - Luis Ramón Landaure, Magno Mariñas Abanto, Rodolfo Ascencios Martel, Carlos Gamero Quispe, and Ernesto Messa Delgado - were freed and walked out of the gates of the Miguel Castro Castro maximum security prison after being locked up for almost two years.

These lawyers remain unrepentant in the face of the fascist repression of the Fujimori regime. Upon their release, the five lawyers immediately issued a statement promising to continue to defend all who need their services.

Eight defense lawyers were originally arrested in 1997--all victims of frame-ups and sham trials. They were hit with blatantly political charges of "treason" and "terrorism" which carry heavy prison sentences. These lawyers have long records of defending people accused of "terrorism," poor people from the shantytowns, and others under attack by the government. For this "crime," these lawyers became targets of government persecution. As the lawyers themselves said: "The real reason for our detention is to impede the right to defense and the freedom to carry out our profession, in this way no lawyer would dare to freely defend a person under investigation for terrorism for fear of being detained or implicated." [PLN, March 1998]

As word of their arrests filtered out of Peru, people in various countries began to mobilize in protest, demanding that the courageous people's defenders be freed. Lawyers and others in Mexico, Colombia, Greece, and the U.S. sent statements to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and to Peruvian officials and newspapers. There was much outrage that the Peruvian lawyers were being jailed for simply carrying out their work. The statements expressed anger and concern that the lawyers were being held under harsh prison conditions and denied their basic legal rights. Many thousands of political prisoners are locked up under inhumane conditions in Peru's dungeons. The eight lawyers became political prisoners themselves, joining numerous other lawyers already behind bars--many serving life sentences--for their defense of people charged with political crimes.

On September 13, the trial on "terrorism" charges began for six lawyers. (Two of the lawyers were released earlier.) This trial was whited out in the U.S. press. But some trial news was reported by the media inside Peru. According to these reports, the prosecution accused the lawyers of association with the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). The prosecution's only "evidence" was that the lawyers defended political prisoners, including people accused of being PCP members. Some of the lawyers were accused of having met to discuss legal strategy in the defense of PCP Chairman Abimael Guzmán. Luis Ramón Landaure was said to have carried a red flag inscribed with a hammer and sickle in a 1987 demonstration. Another piece of "evidence" was the possession of a book by Mao Tsetung.

All of this "evidence" was based on the testimony given by two "arrepentidos." ("Arrepentidos" are people who themselves are charged with political crimes, but who give testimony against others. The 1993 Law of Repentance offered such people pardons or lenience for themselves or their relatives in return for their testimony.)

Even before this trial, the lawyers faced a totally rigged legal process. For example, one prosecutor had to issue a finding admitting that the charges wouldn't stand up and recommending that the lawyers be freed--but higher authorities stepped in and ordered the railroad to push ahead. Two of the lawyers managed to get freed before this happened. But a special court set up for terrorism" cases overruled this prosecutor and ordered the remaining six lawyers to go on trial.

At the weeklong trial, the six lawyers were defended by a team of Lima lawyers and representatives of the Lima Bar Association. At the end, the court was unable to convict them and was forced to rule that the lawyers be acquitted and released--after they had spent 22 months in jail.

This acquittal is a victory, but the repression against lawyers in Peru continues. Many others still remain in prison. And in February, 2000, the regime arrested yet another well-known lawyer, Roberto Godofredo Sihuay Soto, charging him with "terrorism" and "treason."

And this is also not the end of the cases of the lawyers who were acquitted. The sixth acquitted lawyer, Estéban Suárez González, was not immediately released, supposedly due to a bureaucratic foul-up over an arrest warrant. He remains in prison. The prosecutor announced he will appeal the acquittal of Rodolfo Ascencios Martel. Carlos Gamero Quispe and Ernesto Messa Delgado are free now, but both men face new charges: prosecutors now claim that the two lawyers bribed a cop to get a copy of testimony against them. And in all of the cases, the verdicts will now be reviewed by a higher court--at which point there is no guarantee against new legal twists and tricks.

So the struggle needs to continue against the ongoing repression of the people's lawyers in Peru. The Fujimori regime is determined to make it impossible for people charged with political crimes to have access to lawyers and legal defense. And there is the overall situation of the thousands of political prisoners locked up in Peru's dungeons under conditions that completely go against all international standards, including those set by international human rights law.

The broad international mobilization was very important. There were many expressions of protest and support from lawyers, legal organizations, and law students in different countries. Shortly before the trial, a delegation of French lawyers visited the imprisoned lawyers and spoke to the Peruvian press to denounce the repression of lawyers. More lawyers came from Colombia and France, representing the group "Lawyers Without Borders," to observe the trial itself. This international support was heartening to the Peruvian lawyers and their supporters. It made the Fujimori regime's plans much more difficult to complete.

The fight to defend the people's lawyers has been taking place in the context of the situation in Peru where the regime--with full U.S. backing--is trying to brutally crush the People's War led by the PCP and to stifle all resistance. But the impoverishment and suffering of the Peruvian people is intensifying, adding more fuel to the continuation and development of the People's War. In the face of difficulties, the PCP is persevering in leading a just and righteous revolutionary war of the masses. The People's War remains the core problem faced by the present ruling regime. This is the central motivation behind all the repression and brutality the regime commits.

The release of the five lawyers does not mark any fundamental change in how the regime operates. But it is a real victory for the people. The fact that these lawyers stood strong, were strongly supported, and are now freed, gives encouragement to progressive and revolutionary forces in Peru and those supporting them, in Peru and around the world.

[For more information about events in Peru, contact: CSRP, PO Box 1246, Berkeley, CA 94701.]

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