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Peruvian Court Orders Re-arrest of Wrongly Convicted Christians

Recently released from prison, two innocent men go into hiding

by Deann Alford

AUSTIN, Texas, September 12 (Compass) – Two Peruvians, one of them an evangelical Catholic, have gone into hiding after Peru’s National Penal Court ordered their re-arrest for terrorist crimes that the same court had cleared them of less than a year ago.

Wuille Ruiz of the Lima-based evangelical legal aid group Peace and Hope Association, which is defending the men, said that no new evidence has come to light that would warrant the court’s action. Ruiz believes the ruling is a senseless reaction in Peru ’s ongoing “war on terrorism.”

Authorities originally captured Augusto Camacho Alarcón, 45, and Carlos Alberto Jorge Garay, 33, in separate villages on July 23, 1992, with only circumstantial evidence against them.

Camacho Alarcón, a construction worker from the Andean village of Apurimac , was traveling down a street in Lima when someone nearby hurled a bag containing 10 pounds of explosives. Police arrested him, and a faceless court — in which the judge’s identity is hidden behind mirrors or hoods — denied Camacho Alarcón any defense. The court convicted him with no further “evidence” against him, and the judge sentenced him to life in prison. Camacho Alarcón suffers from tuberculosis he contracted while in Lima ’s notorious Castro Castro prison.

Authorities arrested Jorge Garay, a factory worker, six blocks from his house in the Andean village of Ancash , where he happened to be walking when Shining Path rebels blew up a public bus. In circumstances similar to those under which Camacho Alarcón was convicted, a faceless court found him guilty despite the lack of evidence against him. Nor did the court consider that in 1989 Shining Path rebels killed Jorge Garay’s father, an Ancash community leader who was in the Peruvian army.

The court sentenced Jorge Garay to 25 years in prison. He served time in Castro Castro, where he worked as a cook and came to stronger faith in Christ through the discipleship of Saul Tito, an evangelical prisoner also falsely accused of terrorism. A trigonometry teacher, Tito had been arrested when the academy where he taught came under suspicion of harboring a cell of Shining Path collaborators.

Tito received a 20-year prison sentence, but he had served only three years before the Ad Hoc Commission, set up in August 1996 to examine cases of those claiming to have been wrongly convicted of terrorism, released him in October 1996. Formed after then-President Alberto Fujimori admitted that his terrorist measures had imprisoned innocent people, the Ad Hoc Commission had power to free those convicted on the basis of little or no evidence, subject to presidential veto.

During his time in prison, Tito led several inmates to Christ.

Although human rights observers and lawyers with Peace and Hope say that Peru ’s prisons remain full of those wrongly convicted of terrorism crimes, few prisoners have been freed since Peru ’s Congress dissolved the commission in late 1999. Amnesty International has adopted Jorge Garay as a “prisoner of conscience.”

The National Penal Court retried Camacho Alarcón and Jorge Garay and found that each had been wrongly convicted. Each of them had spent more than 12 years in prison. The court freed Camacho Alarcón on October 26, 2004, and a week later freed Jorge Garay. After the Supreme Court overturned the penal court’s ruling, however, the lower court ordered the “recapture” of both men on June 24.

“It’s not that there were new elements or evidence” in the case, Ruiz said. While such serious terrorism cases are routinely reviewed, Ruiz said he was unsure what could have triggered the order.

Even for Ruiz, who is accustomed to dealing with the often arbitrary Peruvian judicial system, the turn of events defies logic. “It’s something that I don’t even understand very well,” Ruiz said. “In reality, the judges haven’t done much analysis of these cases … or [determined] whether there is evidence or not against them.”

Ruiz said that the Supreme Court may issue similar rulings in other cases of prisoners wrongly accused of terrorism because of widespread concern that the Shining Path insurgency will regroup. Authorities fear Shining Path will unleash a crippling wave of terrorism as it did, along with the smaller Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“There’s a situation here of terror, of shock, something that will never end,” Ruiz said.

Peace and Hope lawyers have launched an awareness campaign concerning each case, he said, and have asked the court to allow Camacho Alarcón and Jorge Garay to remain free while their cases are under review.

While no exact statistics are available on the numbers of wrongly accused Christians, Ruiz says that since Peace and Hope began handling such cases in the mid 1980s, about 1,000 evangelicals have been acquitted or pardoned for crimes they did not commit.