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Puerto Rican Governor Fortuño signs repressive penal code changes; lawsuit filed to stop it

By Brad Sigal |
August 8, 2012
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On July 30, Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño signed a highly controversial and sweeping new penal code into law that includes sharp restrictions on a broad range of civil liberties and rights. It’s slated to go into effect on September 1. A week after Fortuño signed it, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit to stop the new law, calling it unconstitutional. "The statute is evidently intended to suppress speech, to stop people from protesting against government policies," William Ramirez, local ACLU director, said in the Washington Post.

The new law includes restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression that criminalize many forms of protest. The law criminalizes, with a mandatory 3 year jail sentence, any protest that might "perturb, interrupt or impede" politicians, or "any disorder" around them. The law also prohibits protests in schools, universities and health institutions that "obstruct the providing of services or access." This is clearly targeted at criminalizing anything like the 2010 student strike at the University of Puerto Rico or actions to defend public services that are threatened by budget cuts and austerity. Violations of this law mean 6 months in jail and/or a $5000 fine.

Puerto Rican Governor Fortuño is with the New Progressive Party (PNP) of Puerto Rico. Since Puerto Rico is a colony ("commonwealth") of the U.S., politicians there can also be affiliated with U.S. parties; Fortuño is also a member of the U.S.’s Republican Party and a member of the Republican National Committee, the leadership body of the Republican Party. He will be a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida in late August along with other controversial right wing politicians such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. There will be large protests outside the Republican National Convention, centered by a mass march on August 27.