Peru Criminal Court rejects anti-terrorist prosecutor’s appeal to send activist back to jail on terrorism charge

A court has rejected a counter-terrorism prosecutor’s motion to return 55-year-old political activist  Carmen Azparrent to prison while she awaits trial and a possible 20-year sentence for allegedly rubbing elbows with Colombian FARC rebels and Venezuelan Bolivarian Movement socialists at an international conference last February in Ecuador.

“This decision confirms that Carmen Azparrent’s release (from jail) was just and necessary,” said lawyer Katya Pinedo, a member of Aprodeh, one of Peru’s main human rights organizations.

“She is totally innocent (and has committed) none of the crimes she is under investigation for,” Pinedo added. “This is why we applaud the Criminal Court’s decision and we hope that her case, given that there is no evidence to connect Azparrent with the crime of terrorism, will soon be shelved.”

Azparrent was one of seven Peruvians arrested Feb. 29 upon returning from the Bolivarian Continental Coordinator conference in Quito, Ecuador. Peruvian authorities contended the group was a resurgent cell of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, which has been inactive since the late 1990s.

Azparrent and her travelling companions allegedly received instructions from Venezuelan agents and Colombian FARC guerrillas to destabilize Peru’s government and disrupt upcoming summits of Latin American, European and Caribbean heads of state next month, and the Asian Pacific Economic Conference in November.  But no concrete evidence has been produced to back up the charge.

Azparrent supporters say she  is an unlikely insurgent, considering her father was assassinated in his home by Maoist Shining Path guerrillas in 1989 when he was mayor of the southern highland city Ayacucho. She was released from jail May 14 under written promises to appear in court and faces a possible 20-year jail sentence.

Three months later, on Aug. 26, prosecutor Julio Galindo’s appealed the Court’s ruling and requested that Azparrent and other women arrested for their alleged ties to the MRTA be sent back to jail.

One of these women, released on May 8, is 20-year-old Melissa Patiño.

Patiño, a business administration university student and poet who helps run a poetry program on the radio and cultural activities for adolescents, denies holding any political affiliation. Besides attending the Bolivarian conference, she is accused of participating in an anti-Neoliberal protest march in Quito, with her face partially covered, and scribbling graffiti on a wall, proclaiming, “Alan Garcia Genocide.”

Galindo asserted in his appeal that Azparrent, Patiño and four other women — Guadalupe Hilario, Damaris Velasco, Armida Valladares and María Gabriel — should be sent back to jail, Galindo argued, because of their “ties” with the MRTA.

“This is an aberrant attitude,” said Aprodeh’s director Francisco Soberón in reaction to the prosectuor’s Aug. 26 appeal. “People can’t be detained and persecuted because they participated in public political activities. This government is more and more similar to that of (former president Alberto) Fujimori, when he used to jail people for whatever motive.”

Of the seven Peruvians detained on Feb. 29, Roque Gonzales La Rosa, the Peruvian Bolivarian delegation leader who served nine years in prison for being a member of MRTA guerrilla and was implicated in the kidnapping of a Bolivian businessman, is the only one that remains behind bars.

“I no longer belong to the MRTA. I am a leftist politician, radical, but political and I act within the confines of democracy,” Gonzales La Rosa told daily La República in a jailhouse interview. “We have the right to be reinstated into society … I cannot be persecuted for my ideas.”

Gonzales claims that he is being arbitrarily detained and his wife, Damaris Velasco Huiza de Gonzales, has petionned the Ombudsman Office and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to review her husband’s case.

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