From Human Rights Foundation:
Norway becomes a safe haven for Amauris Samartino after illegal detention
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Amauris Samartino, a political dissident illegally expelled from Bolivia for criticizing President Evo Morales and Fidel Castro, has been granted asylum in Norway. Samartino, a medical doctor, was detained at gunpoint in eastern Bolivia last December for remarks he had made in the local media. Prior to his expulsion, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) adopted him as a prisoner of conscience of the Bolivian government. “Although my home is Bolivia, I am overjoyed that Norway is willing to be a safe harbor for those with the temerity to express themselves freely. Bolivia is no longer a safe place for those who disagree, no matter how peacefully, with the government of Evo Morales,” said Samartino.
Samartino, a Cuban national, escaped Cuba in 1998 along with 11 other dissidents on a raft. He was picked up by a ship and taken to Guantánamo Bay, where he remained until the International Organization for Migration arranged asylum for him in Bolivia. Admitted to Bolivia in October of 2000, first as a political refugee and later as a permanent legal resident, he settled in Santa Cruz, where he met his wife. In early 2006, Samartino began publicly criticizing the friendship between recently elected president Evo Morales and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. On December 23, 2006 he was arrested in Santa Cruz and taken to La Paz. While in Bolivian police custody, he was told he would be returned to Cuba, but after 17 days of detention he was expelled to Colombia. “Remarkably, Samartino has faced the nightmare of political persecution not once, but twice. Fortunately for him, there is a Norway. This man’s story underlines the reality that freedom can never be taken for granted and must always be actively defended,” said Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen.
Bolivian cabinet minister, Alicia Muñoz, ordered Samartino’s arrest and detention for violating a 1996 immigration law that prohibits foreigners from involving themselves in Bolivian internal affairs. However, that law was declared unconstitutional in 2001 for infringing on free speech rights. On February 2, 2007, the Bolivian Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the detention and expulsion of Samartino was arbitrary and illegal. HRF had filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the Constitutional Tribunal delineating how the government had violated not only Bolivian law but four international treaties in this case. However, Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera responded that the government would not follow the ruling of the court and that Samartino would not be permitted back in the country. “The behavior of the Morales government illustrates the constitutional crisis in Bolivia today. The government ignores the highest court in the land, violates the separation of powers, and justifies arbitrary detainment and exile,” said Halvorssen.
HRF is a New York-based international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Armando Valladares, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
The article, including contact information, is here.