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Peru Releases "Unjustly Jailed" Evangelical After 13 Years

Tuesday, February 14, 2006 | Tag Cloud

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

LIMA, PERU (BosNewsLife) -- Peruvian evangelical Christian Walter Wilmer Cubas Baltasar was spending another day in freedom Monday, February 13, after serving 13 years in prison for terrorist crimes he did not commit, human rights groups confirmed.

Amnesty International (AI) and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said Walter Cubas, a former labor union leader, was released from Lima's maximum security prison Miguel Castro Castro jail, February 1-- carrying the Bible in one hand and a bag with his personal belongings

"I give thanks to God for his freedom and all the individuals and institutions who worked for justice and human rights, all of those who prayed for my freedom, the beautiful letters of encouragement I received," he reportedly said as he embraced his family and friends.

In December thousands of people from around the world wrote greeting cards to him, AI said. The 42-year old married father with four children was detained by police in Lima on January 20, 1993, when he was walking to his mother’s house, according to AI.

POLICE OFFICIALS "TORTURE"

Police officials claimed he was captured during a raid in a street near an area where a group of four men and a woman had painted messages on the wall in support of the Maoist guerilla insurgents Shining Path who are regarded as "terrorists" by Peru, the United States and the European Union.

Although there was no proof and he denied his involvement in the incident, Walter Cubas had his face covered with a black jacket and was beaten by the officers before being taken in a police van to a police station, human rights watchers say.

Soon after, Walter Cubas was charged with the August 1992 attack in El Agustino District in which an army officer was killed as well as with painting "subversive slogans" in Lima streets on 20 January 1993.

During the trial, Walter Cubas’ co-defendants, who were allegedly members of Shining Path, denied he had taken part in the painting of propaganda slogans in support of the organization, AI recalled. They reportedly added that they had been "forced through torture and ill-treatment" to accuse him "of being part of the armed opposition."

A medical report confirmed that the co-defendants showed injuries consistent with beatings, AI said. One of the co-defendants who confessed to having painted the slogans apparently stated that the graffiti was painted the day "before Walter Cubas was detained" and denied knowing him. In addition no paint was apparently found on Walter Cubas’ hands at the time of the arrest.

MILITARY TRIBUNAL TRIAL

Tried by a military tribunal, he was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment for the "terrorism-related" crime of "treason," before being released, apparently on parole, 13 long years later.

CSW said it is believed that his participation in union activities at the factory where he worked, played a major role in the detention. His activities were focused on bettering work conditions for the employees who allegedly worked excessive hours from early morning until late at night.

"As a result of this activity he was considered a troublemaker by some. He believes this may be the motive behind his arrest. When he was detained he was deeply shocked at accusations that he was violent. He didn't even know how to use a weapon," CSW explained.

"Everyone knew he was always in church and the thought of using violence against anyone had never occurred to him or others. Even his boss at the factory spoke up on his behalf," the group added.

ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

As a child he was apparently very active in the Roman Catholic Church. Later in life he began to attend a Pentecostal church regularly and told CSW that he used to take his Bible to the fish factory where he worked, "to share his faith with his friends and co-workers."

When he was "detained and tortured" in prison, he remembered a song taken from the verse, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," and another song from the Bible verse Joshua 1:9-10: "This is my command, be strong, be resolute; do not be fearful or discouraged, for wherever you go the Lord your God is with you," according to CSW.

In communications with the outside world he said that "God gave him strength" through this ordeal despite tough prison conditions, including a cell built for two which he shared with two other men. Walter Cubas plans to continue preaching the Gospel, as he did while in prison.

CSW admitted it had mixed feelings about his release. "After the last and most serious setback in June, when the Supreme Court changed his sentence from Life in Prison to 16 years, instead of freeing him as was hoped, his lawyer, Wuille Ruiz Figueroa, decided to seek conditional liberty for him," the group explained.

NOT DECLARED INNOCENT

"This means that while he has not been declared innocent, he is able to benefit from early release and can return home to his family. He will, however, have to abide by strict conditions, including checking in with the local police station on a daily basis."

Paz y Esperanza, a CSW partner organization, said it will continue "to work with Walter to clear his name." Peru has been criticized for harsh measures against terror suspects, and it is believed there are innocent prisoners throughout the country.

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori has been accused of involvement in crimes against civilians, including massive killings and torture, charges he denies. He was arrested in Chile in November last year after he defied an international arrest warrant and flew from Japan to Chile, police said.

The evangelical organization Peace and Hope said recently it "welcomed" a European Union resolution calling for his extradition, but also stressed it remained "concerned about a climate of increasing hostility" aimed at human rights defenders, including Christians, in Peru. (With reports from Peru, BosNewsLife Research and BosNewsLife News Center)

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Worthy Christian News » Christian Persecution » Christian Persecution - Americas » Peru Releases "Unjustly Jailed" Evangelical After 13 Years