Jailed lawyer says he seeks action to end human rights abuses

People who are given preventive detention in Costa Rica enter into a sort of “twilight zone” where they are set apart from society in more ways than one.

The penitentiary system is working outside the law, severe human rights violations are taking place and human rights organizations are nowhere to be seen. This is a system that unjustly deprives detainees of fundamental rights, even while our Constitution, International conventions and the law demand a person be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

A person should not considered innocent but at the same time treated as guilty. And even guilty people properly sentenced by a court of law should not be subject to the human rights violations I have witnessed during my nine-months detention.

A person in preventive detention suffers extreme and unnecessary limitations with regards to family life, which represents his main contact with the outside world, and his source of moral support during trying times. Family visitation is generally limited to four hours per week. While human contact is direct during these visits, which is a good thing, there is no reason for not allowing more hours, but the restriction is clearly intended to inflict suffering on the detainee and his family. Even if found not guilty and later released, the state cannot make up the time lost.

Marital life is made almost impossible with only four hours every two weeks for conjugal visitation under precarious conditions. Again, this is a clear indication that our culture is two-faced because, although detainees are considered innocent under the law, these restrictions imply a punishment ahead of a trial.

Parent-child contact is made difficult as well, despite the fact that our Constitution burdens the state with the protection of the family. And men have it more difficult than women in this regard. I recently called the Defensoria de los Habitantes trying to obtain help in some of these areas, but the woman who answered my call, who refused to give me her name, said that it was “different with women,” at which point I complained that our Constitution guarantees equality under the law, after which she hung up on me.

Clearly, equality is nearly a matter of convenience to many in our two-faced society. When it comes to defending a father’s right, as a father you are pretty much on your own.

Safety is another area where there is unjust discrimination against detainees. A detainee being transported to court, or to any other place, is put in the back of a modified pick-up truck, in a closed metallic cage with very little ventilation and under extreme heat, with no seat belt, handcuffed, and oftentimes in overcrowded conditions.

Chances of survival in case of a traffic accident are minimal as experience has shown. Traffic law contemplates no exceptions for these types of vehicles, but this is how the government operates. Sadly our constitutional court is an accomplice to these human rights violations. I have filed numerous actions there to no avail.

People detained in judicial police cells will experience a gross disregard for their basic human dignity. To drink water or even flush the toilet, they will have to scream for assistance until a guard decides to cooperate, as faucets are out of reach of detainees. This is only an example of the grave disregard for laws pertaining to health which characterizes our government when it comes to our penitentiary system. Smoking might be prohibited by law in all government buildings, but the law is not respected in jails. Roaches and other pests are all part of the unsanitary conditions you will find in any Costa Rican jail. Here in San Ramón you can’t even find a first aid kit, and this is the country’s best facility by far.

Frankly, our whole penitentiary system is a slap in the face of human rights. Physical and mental torture are commonplace in most prisons with the active participation of prison authorities. Drugs are not tolerated in San Ramón prison, but this prison is the exception. And this is not the case in prisons like San Carlos, San Sebastian or La Reforma where the drug business is fully organized, starting at the highest levels of jail administration. Profits for some prison authorities run in the millions of colons per week. What level of safety can a regular citizen expect in this scenario? As the Lord said, “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

As I said, it’s been nine months since my detention, and I am still awaiting trial. Terms stipulated in the law are not observed and our constitutional court does not enforce them. That’s becoming an accomplice to this violation of due process. Fraudulent administration carries a minimum penalty of six months under the law, Article 222 of the penal code, so anybody can plainly see that in my case I have been forced to serve a penalty which I continue to serve without my basic right to a trial.

For this reason I have filed a formal complaint to the International Human Rights Commission in Washington. Perhaps my case will help mitigate some of the terrible violations against human rights which are committed every day in Costa Rica, and which the regular press does not print or disseminate. People are killed in prison all the time, but you won’t see those deaths reported in the mainstream media.

I can be contacted via email at emailthelawyer@yahoo.com and you can also call me at the San Ramón jail from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 2445-8377 or 2447-0777. Please continue to keep me in your prayers.

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