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HomeAbout NBHRNPolitical PrisonersChristmas: Stark Contradictions for the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners

Christmas: Stark Contradictions for the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners

On December 23, in the spirit of Christmas, the Puerto Rican Bar Association sent a letter to president Bush seeking the release of Puerto Rican Political Prisoners Carlos Alberto Torres and Oscar López Rivera. The letter notes that they have served more than 25 years in prison, and that in Puerto Rico there is broad consensus supporting their release, ranging from the Governor, the Legislature, the Ecumenical Coalition, labor unions and many other important members of civil society.

The Bar Association is in tune with the rest of the world. December is the month when more pardons, clemencies, and amnesties are celebrated throughout the world, in commemoration of the holidays or other special occasions, prior to executives leaving office, in the name of peace and reconciliation, and for countless other reasons.

Unfortunately, the letter fell on deaf ears. President Bush, who has distinguished himself by rarely exercising the constitutional power of pardon,1 pardoned 29 people described as “carjackers, drug dealers, a moonshiner and a violator of election laws,” and “small-time crooks,” many of whom never served time in prison, whose sentences ranged from probation to five years.2 His paltry record of pardons—now a total pardons to 142, with five commutations—ensures his place as the stingiest president in modern U.S. history.3

In stark contrast to the U.S. president’s stinginess, the month of December saw U.S. governors, and presidents of nations throughout the world, from Azerbaijan to Bangladesh, Iraq, Korea and the Philippines, releasing thousands of prisoners:

The Sudanese government pardoned a British teacher sentenced to 15 days following her conviction for insulting Islam by allowing her students to name a stuffed animal after the prophet Mohammed. As thousands in the streets militated for her execution, the government ceded to pressure from British diplomats, and allowed her return to Britain.4

Dozens of Fatah fighters were pardoned by the Israeli government, in its ongoing efforts to boost the standing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.5

On the occasion of his 80th birthday, the King of Thailand pardoned 25,000 prisoners.6

Four university professors, convicted of participating in anti-government protests, were pardoned in Bangladesh.7

The Azerbaijani pardon commission is comprising a list of pardons which the president is expected to be signed on New Years Eve—Solidarity Day of the World Azerbaijanis.8

The Iraqi parliament is considering a proposal to release thousands of detainees from its prisons in ongoing efforts to achieve national reconciliation between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, in the hopes of increasing the country’s security.9 The U.S., which detains 26,000 prisoners, has declared its intention to release most of these detainees by the end of next year. 10

Continuing the long tradition of holiday pardons in New York, the governor announced the first of this year’s pardons, declaring that a Jamaican man convicted of first degree robbery will not be deported.11 In the same vein, the governor of Missouri granted holiday pardons to six,12 and the governor of Texas pardoned nine.13 Just prior to leaving office, the governor of Kentucky pardoned 84 people, continuing his controversial pattern of pardons which included many of his cohorts accused of corruption.14

In a humanitarian gesture, the Czech president pardoned nine, adding to the approximately 200 pardons he has granted since his election in 2003.15

The president of Ecuador announced his intention to pardon people convicted of smuggling small amounts of drugs who are serving long prison sentences.16 His announcement was a blatant rejection of strict drugs laws enacted as a result of U.S. pressure.17

The president of Cyprus granted a Christmas pardon to fifty prisoners,18 just as the acting president of Georgia will do the same.19

The president of Korea, in a lame duck situation at the end of his tenure, announced plans to pardon some 100 businessmen and politicians, many of them his allies who were convicted of corruption.20 The pardon is not without criticism, as one editorial pointed out: instead of handing a political favor to his undeserving “henchmen,” he should be pardoning “conscientious objectors, labor activists and violators of the anti-communist National Security Law who were imprisoned for their beliefs and ideals.” 21

The Philippines president pardoned 64 prisoners, in keeping with her administration’s policy to release prisoners who are 70 years of age. Urging her countrymen to welcome the prisoners and help them live meaningful lives, she said, “Prisoners are people. They deserve as much compassion, if not more human treatment, as those living in a free society.” 22 An additional ten pardons are still under consideration.23

Jan Susler
People’s Law Office
Chicago, Illinois

1 Laura Smith-Spark, “Begging the president’s pardon,” BBC News, June 14, 2007.

2 AP, “Bush Pardons 29, but Not Libby: Forgiveness Follows Late-Term Tradition,”
Associated Press, Washington Post, December 12, 2007.

3 Lara Jakes Jordan, AP, “No Holiday Pardon for Libby,” Washington Post, December 11, 2007.

4 Mohamed Osman, AP, “Teacher’s lawyer expects presidential pardon as British Muslim delegation arrives in Sudan,” Chicago Tribune, December 1, 2007.

5 “Israel to pardon five Fatah gunmen involved in Bethlehem church standoff,” Jerusalem Post, December 6, 2007.

6 “Thai royal pardon to free 25,000 inmates,” China View, December 11, 2007.

7 “Presidential pardon for four Bangladeshi teachers”, Earth Times, December 11, 2007.

8 “Azerbaijan’s Commission on Pardon to Present Closing List to President of Azerbaijan Next Week,” Trend News, December 12, 2007.

9 “Iraq plans mass detainee pardon,says top official,” Reuters, December 16, 2007.

10 Id.

11 Michael Gormley, AP, “Spitzer offers first holiday pardon in NY tradition,” Newsday, December 21, 2007.

12 Aisha Sultan, “Gov. Blunt pardons six,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 2007.

13 “Perry Grants Clemency To Central Texas Man, Eight Others,” KWTX Channel 10, December 21, 2007.

14 R.G. Dunlop and Tom Loftus, “Fletcher pardons spark acrimony: Some prosecutors, relatives outraged,” Courier-Journal, December 12, 2007.

  • see also, Joe Biesk, AP, “Fletcher says he stands by blanket pardon,” The Ledger Independent, November 28, 2007.

15 “Czech president grants nine pardons for humanitarian reasons,” Ceskenoviny,
December 20, 2007.

16 “Ecuadorian president to pardon drugs smugglers,” Radio Netherlands, December 23, 2007.

17 Id.

18 “Christmas pardon for 50 prisoners,” The Gazette, December 22, 2007.

19 “Acting president of Georgia to pardon convicts,” Finchannel, December 26, 2007.

20 “Business, Political Leaders to Be Pardoned This Week,” Korea Times, December 23, 2007.

21 “Don’t Abuse Pardon: President Roh Should Do More to Ensure Rule of Law,” Korea Times, December 25, 2007.

22 Mike Cohen, “Philippines: Arroyo Grants ‘Christmas Pardon’ To 64 Elderly Prisoners,” Pacific News Center, December 20, 2007.

23 Id.

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