Peru: Prisoners On Hunger Strike, German Police Raid Home

On May 5, police and federal authorities in Germany raided the home of Peruvian leftists Isaac and Norma Velazco in Hamburg. Isaac Velazco is the European spokesperson for the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA); he has lived as a political refugee in Hamburg since 1994. According to his lawyers, German officials are trying to build a case against him for participation in the occupation by an MRTA commando of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima from December 1996 to April 1997. The search of Velazco's home in Hamburg lasted for nine hours. Police copied the hard drive of Velazco's computer and confiscated several items.

 In a press conference the day after the raid, Velazco said the police action did not come as a surprise to him. Velazco said that more than 200 MRTA prisoners in Peru's high security prisons have been on hunger strike since April 22, the day marking one year after Peruvian military and police crushed the MRTA occupation of the Japanese ambassador's residence, killing 14 MRTA members [see Update #378]. Velazco said he fears that "the government of President Alberto Fujimori is planning to solve the prisoner problem by means of murder."

 Since December of last year, there have been rumors of a planned violent breakout of the MRTA prisoners from the maximum security facility in Yanamayo. But more MRTA prisoners have been transferred there against their will over the past few months; "It seems that a massacre is being planned", Velazco warned. Velazco himself began a hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners on May 5; he ended the action a week later on May 12. According to Velazco, the MRTA prisoners in Peru ended their hunger strike on May 11 after communicating their demands for improved prison conditions and fair trials to People's Defender Jorge Santisteban de Noriega.

 "There are no MRTA fighters living abroad", explained Velazco. "My only task is to carry out publicity work." In September of last year, at the urging of the Peruvian government, Hamburg's Interior Ministry barred Velazco from engaging in political activity in Germany; a court appeal has prevented the ban from taking effect. [Junge Welt 5/7/98, 5/9/98, translation posted by Arm The Spirit; Comunicado de Prensa de Isaac Velazco 5/12/98]

 On May 15 Peru's Constitutional Court rejected a petition of habeas corpus submitted in February 1997 by attorney Gloria Margarita Cano Legua of the Pro-Human Rights Association (APRODEH) on behalf of four Chilean MRTA members serving life sentences at Yanamayo maximum security prison in Puno. Alejandro Luis Astorga Valdez, Lautaro Mellado Saavedra, Maria Concepcion Pincheira Saez and Jaime Castillo Petruzzi have not been permitted visits by relatives or lawyers. Cano argued that the ban on visits is illegal. [La Republica (Lima) 5/16/98]

 On April 10 Amnesty International (AI) blasted Peru's military courts and called prison conditions for suspected rebels "inhuman." AI said that U.S. activist Lori Berenson, arrested in November 1995 and now serving a life sentence at Puno for her alleged links to the MRTA, did not get a fair trial. "Peru continues to mock human rights guarantees with trials that are but a parody of justice", said AI in a statement. [Reuter 4/10/98]

 Source: Weekly News Update On The Americas #433 - May 17, 1998

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