May 10, 2018
Contact: Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, NLG President
NEW YORK—The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) joins the Puerto Rican civil rights and legal communities in condemning the actions of law enforcement and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice (PRDOJ), in response to their ongoing persecution and intimidation of human rights lawyers and activists. Most recently on May 1, or “May Day,” the police department attacked peaceful demonstrators—including children—with pepper spray and tear gas during a protest against austerity measures by the U.S.-imposed, colonial fiscal control board that has exacerbated the devastating economic crisis in Puerto Rico.
The board was created in 2016 under “PROMESA,” the U.S. federal law that attempts to dismantle workers’ rights and authorizes the anti-democratic and colonial control board to make fiscal and public policy decisions on the island. The police department was also heavily criticized during last year’s May Day rally when police in riot gear sprayed hundreds of protestors attempting to rally through the financial district.
Following the May Day protest, the PRDOJ summoned renowned civil rights attorney Alvin Couto de Jesus for social media posts critical of former FBI agent Hector Pesquera, the current Commissioner of Safety and Public Protection tasked with overseeing the police department. “The targeting of activists and repression of dissent by government officials continues in Puerto Rico. It is no surprise that Hector Pesquera, who hails from the FBI—the very agency responsible for the decades-long persecution of U.S. activists—is now targeting lawyers for their movement work in defending freedom of speech and assembly,” said NLG President Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan.
The police department and PRDOJ have a long history of engaging in unethical tactics, including against NLG member and attorney Mariana Nogales Molinelli. Earlier this year, the PRDOJ attempted to call Ms. Nogales Molinelli as a witness in a case in which she was counsel for a defendant, attempting to remove her from the case as the defendant’s chosen lawyer. The Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico [Puerto Rico Bar Association] issued a resolution denouncing the PRDOJ’s attempt to silence Ms. Nogales Molinelli and interfere in the provision of legal services.
Both Mr. Couto de Jesus and Ms. Nogales Molinelli belong to the Brigada Legal Solidaria (BLS), a legal collective that offers pro bono representation for Puerto Ricans engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. The PRDOJ’s unethical collusion in these personal attacks is a thinly-veiled attempt at silencing movement lawyers who support constitutionally-protected speech, so as to leave protestors without adequate legal support when they are subject to state violence.
The police department has a long history of using excessive force and has been plagued by corruption, discrimination, and continuous failure to meet minimum standards of competency for training and investigations. These tactics and the use of a militarized police force are often employed against civilians, including families, students and elderly, who engage in peaceful protests.
“Puerto Ricans will continue to take to the streets to show their collective outrage at the colonial and financial interests that continue to dominate their nation—actions that the U.S. has not only sanctioned but openly encourages—especially as all other forums remain closed to them. The NLG will not stand for the attempts to silence human rights defenders who demand an end to the austerity and human rights violations, whether in the streets or in the courtroom,” added Bannan.
The National Lawyers Guild, whose membership includes lawyers, legal workers, jailhouse lawyers, and law students, was formed in 1937 as the United States’ first racially-integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.