ACLU of Puerto Rico Criticizes Government Treatment of Veiques Protestors

May 7, 2001 12:00 am

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SAN JUAN, PR — The American Civil Liberties Union’s Puerto Rico chapter today severely criticized the federal government’s multiple violations of the civil liberties of demonstrators protesting the U.S. Navy’s bombing exercises on Veiques island.

“The government’s blatant disregard of the protestors’ basic rights constitute some of the most serious civil rights violations in recent Puerto Rican history,” said Janice Gutierrez-LaCourt, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico chapter of the ACLU.

The ACLU said it is continuing to gather evidence about the recent incidents. Thus far, the ACLU said it has managed to identify three major violations by the federal government.

While making arrests of those who had entered federal land, military police and U.S. Marshals reportedly beat and used pepper spray on unarmed, handcuffed and subdued protestors. “This is the most disturbing allegation,” said Gutierrez-LaCourt “No one should have to tolerate being physically assaulted by government officials.”

In addition, the ACLU said that federal officials used tear gas and rubber pellets to disperse lawful protestors who were outside of the federal facility.

Finally, the arrested demonstrators were denied their due process rights. Although engaging in trespass generally does not carry a fine, some protestors were denied bail and others subjected to exorbitant bail fees ranging from $1,500 to $10,000. And those protestors who are residents of Veiques were more likely to be denied bail or to receive a higher bail fee.

It is not uncommon for some protestors to remain incarcerated because they do not have money to make bail. Furthermore, the ACLU said, those protestors who openly said that they do not recognize the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts in Puerto Rico but who agreed to appear at trial, were subjected to higher bail fees.

“The court was strategically aiding the U.S. Marshals and military police,” Gutierrez-LaCourt said. “By setting such high bail fees the court is retaliating by effectively denying the protestors their free speech rights.”

In addition to setting high bail fees, the court limited media access to the bail proceedings by only allowing one reporter from every medium into the court room.

“Most reporters can not remain at one assignment all day,” said Gutierrez-LaCourt. “The court’s limitation on press has the same effect as closing off the court room to the public. To worsen matters, the judges have absolute discretion over which media outlet they allow into the courtroom. So, if they don’t like a particular news agency’s coverage, that agency is less likely be allowed into the courtroom.”

The ACLU of Puerto Rico is closely following the development of all the events surrounding the Veiques protests and is collecting data in preparation to file a legal complaint. The ACLU encourages every person who has been subjected to or witnessed a civil rights violation during the Veiques protests to call 787-753-4268.

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