ROSARIO, Argentina – The bishops of Bolivia are calling for an urgent reform of the justice system, after a series of protests over the release of rapists and murderers rocked the country.

“It is urgent to have a suitable and impartial judicial system that restores confidence and hope to so many people who are victims of the manipulation of justice,” reads the statement released by the bishops.

According to the bishops, it is necessary to avoid further violence and confrontation in the country. They also argue that an environment of peace, harmony and respect for the right to life can be cultivated, bearing in mind that people and human rights cannot be excluded under any circumstances.

“Such defense is the first necessary condition for justice and peace to be achieved within the framework of an adequate coexistence,” argued the bishops.

The bishops also drew attention to “the delicate health situation” of the former interim president of Bolivia, Jeanine Áñez, who has been conducting a hunger strike in prison.

She was arrested in 2021 in what human rights activists called a crackdown on the opposition by the allies of former President Evo Morales, who claim he was ousted in a coup in 2019, after election irregularities led to his removal from office.

The bishops called on the State authorities to allow Áñez immediate access to adequate hospital care and a trial “with due process and freedom.”

Quoting Pope Francis, they urged authorities to “always remember that when justice is truly just, it makes people happy and its inhabitants dignified.”

They also urge Añez to end the extreme measure of the hunger strike, as her life is at serious risk, and to “trust that the truth will come out.”

The former interim president spent 10 days on a hunger strike, despite a judge ordered she be transferred to a hospital. Añez is currently in preventive prison as she awaits trial on charges of terrorism, conspiracy and sedition. She claimed on Sunday that she is suffering “psychological torture,” and her daughter claims current President Luis Arce “wants to kill my mother.” 

The bishops said they released their statement for two fundamental reasons: On the one hand, the corruption of the judicial system, that has allowed murderers to walk free despite being found guilty; and the political use of the judicial system, that has led to a process against the former interim government.

According to the prelates, the process is being “conducted among serious legal deficiencies and violating the most elementary human rights, arousing serious doubts about wanting, in this way, to cover up the truth of what happened in 2019, recognized by international observers and institutions.”

Women’s murderers, freed for money

Another sign of “the significant deterioration of the Bolivian judicial system,” is the freeing of criminals convicted of killing women “motivated by economic interests of justice operators,”  a situation evident in “emblematic cases of corruption and lack of common sense” in the face of the suffering of the victims, without forgetting the serious danger that certain criminals represent for the population.

Just to give one example: In 2015 Richard Choque Flores was sentenced to 30 years in prison, the longest sentence in the Bolivian penal code, after being found guilty of kidnapping and murdering a woman. He was granted house arrest in Dec. 2019, for an alleged terminal illness. He was recaptured earlier this year, suspected of raping a woman. He confessed to having killed three women and abused at least 70 during his years under house arrest. The case uncovered a corrupt network between criminals and judges.

“In one city there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared for men,” write the bishops, quoting a passage from the Gospel of Luke that tells the parable of a corrupt judge who refused to do justice for a poor widow. 

“This parable significantly reflects the current situation of the judicial system in our country, which is undergoing a serious deterioration,” write the bishops. “This fact has led to the loss of all credibility among the population and has given rise to growing demands for a profound and deep-rooted reform that would guarantee an administration of justice that is fair, transparent and free from all political and social pressures.”

The Catholic hierarchy argued that it is urgent to have a suitable and impartial judicial system that restores “confidence and hope.”

“May greater acts of violence and confrontation be avoided in our country, and may we all be able to live in peace, harmony, serenity and sacred respect for life, people and human rights do not expire under any circumstances,” they write. 

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