For immediate release
SOA Watch Contact:
Hendrik Voss, National Organizer,202-234-3440
Constitutional Rights Under Attack in Georgia: US Representatives, 75+ Organizations Demand Protest Restrictions Be Lifted
Columbus, Georgia – The Columbus police department has received some national and international attention after Columbus police chief Ricky Boren announced unconstitutional restrictions on the annual November 21-23, 2014 Vigil to Close the School of the Americas (SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at the main gates of Fort Benning, Georgia. According to the police, the annual gathering of thousands of should be limited to 200 people. The permit to set up a stage and sound system has been denied.
The suggestion by the Columbus police that SOA Watch should abandon plans for a protest at the main gates of the base, and instead apply for a new permit for a side road near a back entrance, was rejected by organizers, who vow to continue the 24-year tradition of honoring those killed by SOA/WHINSEC graduates at the main gates of the base.
This week, 12 Members of Congress intervened in the conflict. In a letter to the Columbus mayor and police chief, Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (MI), Jim McGovern (MA), John Lewis (GA), Hank Johnson (GA), Sam Farr (CA), Danny K. Davis (IL), Barbara Lee (CA), Michael Capuano (MA), Peter DeFazio (OR), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Maxine Waters (CA), and Luis Gutierrez (IL) asked the local authorities to lift the restrictions and to let the Vigil go forward unimpeded. The lawmakers write “While the demonstration may impede traffic and constitute an inconvenience to Ft. Benning, these types of disruptions are part and parcel of our country’s proud tradition of vigorous free speech.”
Thousands of activists and more than 75 national and international human rights and social justice organizations have signed petitions and written letters to Columbus authorities in support of SOA Watch’s first amendment rights.
Thousands have gathered every November for the nonviolent demonstration since the first anniversary of the 1989 SOA graduate-led massacre of 16-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos and six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America in El Salvador. SOA Watch calls for the closure of the institute, which exports the militarization of police, perpetuates coups, torture, extrajudicial killings, and human rights abuses in the face of social and political problems. The SOA/WHINSEC made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released SOA training manuals that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Among its graduates are at least 11 dictators as well as leaders of infamous Central American death squads. SOA/WHINSEC graduates are currently linked to the Honduran military coup and the repression campaign against social movements there, among other humanitarian crises.