Entries in Jail (17)


Three Years After Arrest, American Alan Gross Still Jailed in Cuba

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post(WASHINGTON) -- On the third anniversary of the day a U.S. government sub-contractor was jailed in Cuba for a project he was completing for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Washington again called for his release.

After serving three years of a 15-year sentence for what Cuban authorities call "Acts against the Independence or Territorial Integrity of the Cuban State," family members and the Obama administration are asking the Cuban government to let Maryland resident Alan Gross go.

"Mr. Gross is a 63-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement released Monday.

When he was arrested, Gross was in Cuba working on a project for Development Alternatives, Inc., a company contracted by USAID, according to court documents.

Gross' wife filed a lawsuit on his behalf in November accusing DAI and USAID of failing to fully inform Gross of the risks associated with his tasks in Cuba, and failing to fully train him and supervise the selection process that got him the job. The couple is seeking $20 million in compensation from USAID.

Documents from the lawsuit against USAID say Gross was in Cuba to help "improve Internet access for the Jewish community in Cuba."

The United States has at least a moral responsibility to intervene on Gross' behalf, according to American University Professor Phillip Brenner.

"This work he was doing was on behalf of the United States. Whether they have a legal responsibility, I think the court has to decide that," Brenner said. "Whether they have an ethical -- a moral -- responsibility, there's no question that they do."

President Obama has been following Gross' case and requested that the Cuban government release him, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday at a press briefing.

"The Cuban government should release Alan Gross and return him to his family where he belongs," Carney said.

Appeals for Gross' release have focused on the humanitarian aspect of his imprisonment.

Rabbi David Shneyer visited Gross in fall 2011. In a newsletter to his congregation, Shneyer described how the Cuban jail officials, "created a comfortable space with two couches and a table with refreshments" for him to meet with Gross.

Shneyer told ABC News Gross is doing his best, "to endure his imprisonment emotionally, spiritually and physically."

"I do know that Alan has lost a tremendous [amount] of weight," Shneyer wrote in an email.

Gross has lost more than 100 pounds in the last three years, a fact that Brenner said his wife points to as evidence he might have cancer. According to the Cuban government, Gross tested negative for cancer in October.

 "I wish to inform you that a biopsy of the lesion that Mr. Gross has behind his right shoulder was performed on October 24 last, which confirmed that said lesion is not carcinogenic. The biopsy tested negative for neoplastic cells and it was confirmed that the lesion is made up by isolated muscle cells and extensive areas of red blood-cells that could be associated to a hematoma," José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., wrote in a letter dated Nov. 28, 2012 that was obtained by ABC News. "This test could not be performed before due to Mr. Gross's refusal."

Despite the Cuban official's assurances, Shneyer said, "There are still concerns about the lump on his shoulder."

In Monday's request from the State Department, Toner asked that the Cuban government, "grant Alan Gross's request to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, who is gravely ill," calling it a "humanitarian issue."

The letter from Cabañas included a summary of the U.S. case against a group of Cubans, known as the "Cuban Five," being held on espionage charges, about whom he said Cuba has "legitimate humanitarian concerns."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Producer of Gay Play Released from Ugandan Jail

Kevin Horan/Stone(KAMPALA, Uganda) -- British play producer David Cecil was released from a Ugandan jail Monday three days after his arrest for staging a play about a gay man, but declined to speak about the case because his situation was “delicate.”

Cecil pleaded not guilty at his bail hearing Monday, but his passport was confiscated and he could still face up to two years in prison. He is scheduled to return to court Oct. 18.

“When I spoke to him today as he was getting released, physically he was okay, but I think psychologically he was a bit tortured,” Cecil’s friend and Ugandan civil rights attorney Godwin Buwa told ABC News.

Uganda is a conservative East African country where homosexual acts are a crime, and some lawmakers are pushing to extend the sentence to life imprisonment.

Buwa is not representing Cecil in the case, but accepted questions on his behalf after Cecil decided Monday to refer media calls to his attorney and others familiar with his legal situation.

Cecil was arrested Thursday on charges of “disobedience of lawful orders” from the Uganda Media Council which accuses him of staging the play “The River and the Mountain” in the capital city of Kampala at least twice after he was sent notice to suspend performances.

“His case is becoming quite delicate in the public and the authorities will see him as a promoter of homosexuality in Uganda, which of course is a ridiculous thought,” said Buwa.

Cecil operates a small theater and bar in Kampala and has lived in Uganda with his girlfriend and two children for at least three years.  He previously told reporters he is not a gay activist, but he is driven to produce great art and simply wanted to contribute to Uganda’s theatrical tradition with a drama about a little discussed, but very real issue faced by people who are gay in Uganda.

“The content of our play is actually very mild. We don’t have any explicit reference to sex of any kind really. There’s no swearing. There’s no violence on stage. We actually deliberately constructed the narrative of the drama so that it would be family friendly, so that anyone could come and enjoy it. It’s a comedy drama,” Cecil told Radio France International shortly before he was jailed.

Cecil said the “The River and the Mountain,” written by a British poetry student Beau Hopkins, is about a young businessman who loses friends and family and is ultimately killed by his own employees after revealing he is gay.  According to the Ugandan Daily Monitor newspaper, the Uganda Media Council said in court documents the play was found to be “obnoxious” with “violence towards persons of homosexual behavior and indeed implicitly promotes a deification of such persons.”

Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister, Simon Lukodo, told the BBC he may also pursue legal action against the Ugandan actors in the play.

Buwa said Cecil and his attorney are no longer granting interviews to Ugandan media hoping to limit attention on the case.  In a country where newspapers have publicly “outed” hundreds of gay people who then feared for their lives after being called “evil” and accused of “recruiting” children, Buwa fears Cecil will be vilified in the press.

“Being a foreigner, the whole thing about homosexuality being seen as a foreign practice being pushed on Uganda, he may be looked at as an agent of Western influence bringing homosexuality to Uganda,” said Buwa.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Taliban Jail Break: More than a Dozen Escape Overnight

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- More than a dozen prisoners, including members of the Taliban, escaped from jail Friday in Sar-e-Pul province, in northern Afghanistan.

Afghan officials say insurgents detonated a bomb outside the prison walls, and the prisoners escaped through the rubble. Afghan guards fired at the escapees, killing three, but fourteen prisoners are still at large.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Taliban Pulls Off Biggest Jailbreak in Pakistani History

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ISLAMABAD) -- Hundreds of dangerous militants are on the loose in northwestern Pakistan after Taliban militants freed them Sunday from a prison in the town of Bannu.

Described as the biggest jailbreak in the country's history, the Taliban was able to blast through the front gate and free 386 inmates with virtually no resistance from prison guards.  The installation houses about 900 captives, some of them on death row.

Boasting about it afterwards, a Taliban spokesman said, "We have released our men without losing a single man.  We had been planning this blessed operation for months."

Among those freed was a former military commander sentenced to die for the 2003 assassination attempt on the life of one-time President Pervez Musharraf.

By nightfall, only about 11 inmates had been rounded up, with about two dozen electing to return to the jail voluntarily.

It's believed that most of the escapees wound up in North Waziristan where the Taliban and al Qaeda have held sway for years.  It's also where most Taliban militants regroup before crossing over into Afghanistan to fight the war in that country.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russian Prisoner Escapes by Helicopter

File photo. (Stocktrek/Getty Images)(MOSCOW) -- It sounds like something out of a movie. A prison escape so daring it almost seemed improbable. According to a Russian news report, a convicted murderer climbed a rope ladder into a helicopter and escaped as guards fired shots at the chopper.

The incident took place at a high security penitentiary that houses about 1,700 prisoners in the Volgoda Region of Russia, just east of St. Petersburg. There, according to RIA Novasti, a prisoner named Alexei Shestakov was halfway through a 24-year sentence for murder.

Thursday morning the helicopter approached the prison and dropped a rope ladder. Shestakov reportedly scampered up and the aircraft darted away, dodging shots from prison guards who tried in vain to prevent the escape.

RIA Novasti reports that the helicopter crew was forced to fly towards the prison by the escapee’s accomplices.

“At the scheduled time today the helicopter’s crew landed it at the designated place, taking on board a man and a woman. After the aircraft took off, they drew guns and forced the pilot to hover above the penal colony and throw out a rope. The convict used the rope to climb onboard,” an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Police eventually caught the escaped convict, who was “slightly injured” after refusing to surrender when cornered by law enforcement. The people who helped him escape are reportedly still at large.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hundreds of Prisoners Killed in Honduras Jail Fire

ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images(TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras) -- A fire at a jail in Honduras has left at least 272 prisoners dead after the blaze broke out late Tuesday night, officials said. Dozens were burned or suffocated to death after authorities failed to open a number of the prison’s cells, BBC News reports.

"We couldn't get them out because we didn't have the keys and couldn't find the guards who had them," said Josue Garcia, a spokesman for the Comayagua firefighters.

The head of the city’s forensic services said 356 prisoners were unaccounted for and speculated they “could be dead, though others could have suffered burns, escaped or survived.”

The jail was reportedly holding some 800 inmates at the time of the fire.

Officials, according to BBC News, are investigating whether an electric fault is to blame.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


American Hikers Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal Released from Iranian Prison

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- After being held in Iran for more than two years on espionage charges, American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were finally released from jail on Wednesday.

The two will now be handed over to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which handles American interests in Iran since the U.S. doesn't have an embassy there, before they are flown back to the U.S.

Earlier Wednesday, Bauer and Fattal's attorney, Masoud Shafii, got the second judge's signature -- needed on their release order -- paving the way for their combined $1 million bail to be processed.

The hikers' release marks a public relations victory for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.  Ahmadinejad had hoped the two would be freed in time for his trip to the United Nations, and even promised their release last week.

Bauer and Fattal have been in Iran's Evin prison since July 31, 2009.  Iranian authorities claimed the two had illegally crossed over into their territory while they were hiking in northern Iraq, and charged them with spying for the U.S.

Sarah Shourd, a third hiker and Bauer's fiancée, was also detained then but was released after posting $500,000 bail in September of 2010.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Second Iranian Judge Signs American Hikers' Release Order

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the two Americans hikers who have been jailed in Iran for over two years, could be released as early as Wednesday.

The news comes as a second judge signed their release order on Wednesday.  The day before, the judge had not returned from vacation and was not at court when the hikers' lawyer, Masoud Shafii, showed up for the signature.

Shafii told ABC News the only thing left to process now is the $500,000 bail for each of his clients, which could be completed in a matter of hours.

Bauer and Fattal have been detained in Iran since July 31, 2009 for espionage.  After crossing an unmarked border while hiking in northern Iraq, Iranian authorities claimed the two had illegally crossed over into their territory and charged them with spying for the U.S.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Iranian President Ahmadinejad Guarantees Hikers’ Release

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted that the two imprisoned hikers, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, will soon be released “as a humanitarian gesture” from Iran where they have been held for more than two years.
“I did say within the next few days and I still say the same thing.  And God willing they will be released very soon,” he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos after landing in New York to attend a meeting at the U.N General Assembly.

Just last week, Ahmadinejad announced that the two Americans would be released on $1,000,000 bail.  When that was delayed, there was hope they would be freed on Tuesday.  But the Iranian judges played politics -- apparently not wanting to give their rival Ahmadinejad a victory, the judge needed to sign the release order was not back in court as expected.

When asked if members of the members of the judiciary are determined to embarrass you and prevent the release of those hikers while you’re here in the United States

"There is no problem.  There is a judicial process that has to be completed and hopefully it will be, God willing," the Iranian president said, responding to Stephanopoulos' comment that members of the judiciary are determined to embarrass him and prevent the hikers' release while he's in the U.S.

As far as guaranteeing that Fattal and Bauer will come to the U.S., Ahmadinejad said, "Yes, we act upon whatever we say.  And if we don’t want to act, we won’t say it."

"But when we said we will release them, we will release them, as a humanitarian gesture," he added.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Iran's Judiciary Still Reviewing Bail Deal for American Hikers

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iran's judiciary is still reviewing the bail deal for detained American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, ABC News has confirmed.

On Tuesday, ABC News learned that bail had been set for the two men at $500,000 each.  Their lawyer, Masoud Shafii, told ABC News that as soon as his clients could get the money together, they would be released from jail.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was hoping for the hikers' release before his trip to the U.N. next week, also expressed in an interview aired on Tuesday that the hikers would be released in a couple of days.

But that may not be possible.  Thursday and Friday are not working days for judges in Iran, so the necessary paperwork may not be completed before Saturday.

Bauer and Fattal have been detained in Iran since July 31, 2009 for espionage.  After crossing an unmarked border while hiking in northern Iraq, Iranian authorities claimed the two had illegally crossed over into their territory and charged them with spying for the U.S.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio