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Human Rights Clinic prepares petition demanding end to violations in Nicaragua

September 16, 2013

In a petition filed today on behalf of Jason Puracal, Seattle University School of Law's International Human Rights Clinic demands an end to ongoing abuses by the Government of Nicaragua and redress for the many violations suffered by Puracal and his family.

Jason in D.C.Jason Puracal, his sister Janis '07, and Professor Tom Antkowiak presented the petition to the  Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., this morning, the one-year anniversary of Puracal's return home.  Puracal, a U.S. citizen from Seattle, was illegally detained by Nicaragua in November 2010 and languished for nearly two years in the infamous La Modelo prison. Puracal was released only after his family launched an international campaign to save his life.

"Jason Puracal and his family endured a terrible ordeal," Antkowiak said. "The clinic's petition seeks redress for them, and it also supports the family's inspiring vision for change in Nicaragua.  We hope that the litigation will initiate much-needed reforms in that nation's judiciary, police force, and prisons."

 The Inter-American Commission is part of the Organization of American States; it is the primary human rights institution in the Americas. Antkowiak said this forum can deliver remedies on both individual and structural levels.

Antkowiak and about 16 students spent hundreds of hours preparing Puracal's petition over the course of two semesters. Students did legal research and analysis, drafting, and documentation of numerous rights violations, including Puracal's inhuman detention conditions and sham trial, as well as his family's forced displacement from Nicaragua. They interviewed Janis, Jason, and his Nicaraguan wife, Scarleth, even communicating with Jason while he was still in jail in Nicaragua.

One of the students, Bret Sachter '12, said the clinic was one of the most formative experiences he had in law school.

"The inspiration I felt while working on the petition, knowing Jason was suffering in a dangerous prison following the violation of many of his rights under both Nicaraguan and international law, is a feeling I strive to tap into in all aspects of my work," he said.

Antkowiak said the violations go beyond Puracal's case.

 "Nicaragua gravely mistreats its prison population and defies basic due process guarantees," said Antkowiak, a professor of international law and a human rights lawyer with experience in Latin America.  "The State of Nicaragua has left us no choice but to call on international legal institutions." 

 Recently, the CRS Report for Congress documented serious abuses in Nicaragua involving "unlawful killings by the police; harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and widespread corruption in and politicization of government entities, including the judiciary and the Supreme Electoral Council." 

According to Puracal, there are many others, including other Americans, detained at La Modelo without evidence.  Without help from the international community, Puracal fears many of the others left at La Modelo will die from starvation and disease. 

 "I continue to have nightmares about that place and the suffering that was all around me," he said.

Puracal has asked the Inter-American Commission to demand that Nicaragua institute legal reforms as well as initiatives to provide clean water and medical care to those still held at La Modelo.  Puracal has also asked the Commission to shut down El Chipote, the torture facility where he was initially detained.

The unfounded case against Puracal continues in Nicaragua. After his release, the Government of Nicaragua petitioned its own Supreme Court to reinstate Puracal's 22-year sentence.

Read more about Janis Puracal's fight to save her brother.