"American citizens on travel anywhere around the world need to know that the United States will go to bat for them when they are being denied fundamental human rights or basic due process rights by foreign government officials who abuse the rule of law," said United States Congressman Chris Smith, author of new U.S. legislation, "Jacob's Law," named for American Jacob Ostreicher who has been wrongly and unjustly held in a Bolivian prison without formal charges or bail since June 2011.
"Jacob's Law, also known as the "Justice for Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act" (H.R. 6292) is in direct response to several reports about U.S. citizens being held in foreign prisons around the world while their fundamental due process and human rights are being flagrantly violated," said Smith, chairman of a U.S. congressional subcommittee that oversees international human rights. "The U.S. government has the responsibility, both under U.S. law and as a matter of principle, to advocate for these citizens, to defend their lives, and to respond appropriately with the goal of having their rights respected."
While noting the critical global impact of the legislation, Smith also acknowledged that he introduced H.R. 6292 this month to underscore the Bolivian government's direct and deliberate interference as well as its total disregard for internationally-recognized judicial standards in the 14-month incarceration of New York businessman Jacob Ostreicher and the confiscation of all the assets of the rice farming business in which he was an investor.
"First and foremost, the bill is designed to secure greater respect for internationally recognized human rights and the just administration of the law for Americans who are apprehended by foreign law enforcement entities," said Smith who travelled to Bolivia in June, visited Jacob in prison and met with several Bolivian officials on Jacob's behalf. "And as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Bolivian Government has recognized and made an international commitment to respect those rights," Smith said.
"Furthermore," Smith added, "in Jacob's case, Bolivian authorities are not only violating international standards of justice, they are disregarding their own laws and constitution at the expense of an American businessman." As evidence, Smith pointed to the fact that Jacob Ostreicher, who was imprisoned virtually on the mere premise that he is guilty until he proves himself innocent, has not been presented with any evidence that he has committed any crime but has nonetheless been subjected to the inhumane conditions of the Palmasola prison for over 14 months. Reports indicate further that during his imprisonment and with apparent complicity by Bolivian government officials, Jacob has had almost $50 million worth of agricultural and financial assets stolen from the business he operated.
"In their defense," Smith said, "some Bolivian officials try to argue that their citizens also suffer from corruption and incompetence in the Bolivian political and judicial systems. The huge difference," Smith said, "is that Ministry of Government legal advisers do not appear to have interjected themselves in other court proceedings and threatened the judge in order to delay justice as they are now doing at Mr. Ostreicher's hearings." Smith attended the court hearing where, after being threatened by the prosecutor, the judge postponed and referred the case.
Smith said, "the U.S. Government and American people are in solidarity with the Bolivian people who believe in and respect human rights, and who desire a just political and judicial system for themselves and their country." It is very important to note that the legislation does not address the situation of those Americans who violate the legitimate laws of foreign countries and have access to internationally-accepted due process rights. U.S. citizens who pursue their rights and are found to have committed crimes overseas must accept the consequences of their actions. This is not the case with Mr. Ostreicher, who has yet to be formally charged with anything.
Amith said it was simply wrong of Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera to publically attempt to link Jacob's case to a 2003 political case in which Bolivia seeks extradition of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada from the U.S. when there is no connection to Jacob. "The comparison seems to be a shameless effort to foster anti-U.S. sentiment and distract from the fact that the government has produced no evidence that Jacob is connected to any crime, including organized crime and drug trafficking as claimed," Smith said. "I encourage him to read the bill."
There is no concrete evidence against Jacob of any kind other than vague accusations, according to an investigation done by former FBI Agent Steve Moore, (known for his work in the Amanda Knox case in Italy) who testified in June and August 2012 before a congressional panel regarding Jacob. Jacob's case has been highlighted by reputable news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal, ABC Nightline, Associated Press, CNN, Gannett News Service, Agence France-Presse, and numerous respected Bolivian news outlets.
An Aug. 1 hearing entitled "Seeking Freedom for American Trapped in Bolivian Prison" was a prelude to the bill. An earlier hearing on the case was held in June. Smith also visited Jacob in June, attended a court proceeding disrupted by the Bolivian government and met with high-ranking officials seeking assistance to secure Ostreicher's release. Smith was asked to become involved in the case by Jacob's daughter, a Lakewood, N.J. resident who lives in Smith's congressional district.
A longtime global human rights leader and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee since 1983, Smith has authored other bills and amendments that have placed restrictions on those found complicit in human rights abuses. Smith's PL 112-82 which President Obama signed into law earlier this year bans officials from Belarus entry to the U.S. if they are determined to be complicit with human rights violations in that country. Smith's law, P.L.106-113, included a provision (Sec. 801)to deny entry into the United States of foreign nationals engaged in the establishment or enforcement of forced abortion or sterilization policies and another provision (Sec. 405), which prohibited member of the Royal Ulster Constabulatory police force from training programs with the FBI, if they were found complicit in human rights abuses against attorneys representing the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.