Rights group questions handling of domestic violence case against activist

By John McPhaul

The Search for Equity Coalition (CABE by its Spanish acronym) denounced Tuesday night what it described as the irregular handling of the case of Law 54, the Domestic Violence Law, filed against activist Pedro Julio Serrano and demanded that due process of law be guaranteed for both parties.

“CABE was born in 2013 with an equality agenda that included amendments to Law 54 on Domestic Violence that today allows anyone to ask for their protection regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said CABE spokesperson Osvaldo Burgos Pérez in a written statement. “In keeping with our history, we continue to believe that domestic violence should not be tolerated and that the State has a duty to prevent, investigate, and intervene when it occurs.”

“In this sense, CABE demands that the investigation and judicial process of the case against Pedro Julio Serrano Burgos be guided by the search for truth and justice,” Burgos Pérez said.

Carmen Milagros Vélez Vega, also a CABE spokesperson, added that “[w]e cannot, however, ignore the context of this case and how it has been handled since yesterday [Monday].”

“We are in a scenario in which Pedro Julio Serrano was arrested and held in a police station for more than 24 hours and with limited access to information and his legal representation,” Vélez Vega said. “Meanwhile, the Puerto Rico Police could not give information that justified why this case required more than 24 hours to interview the complainant and reach a court.

Added to this is the fact that despite [Serrano] being an immuno-compromised person and the pandemic caused by COVID-19, the police at the barracks were without masks, putting the detainee’s health at risk.”

Liza Gallardo, another CABE spokesperson, noted that “[a]s human rights defenders, we have to be consistent and look at the context of the case beyond what appears to be evident.”

“There are several red flags to raise here, and they include looking at who Pedro Julio Serrano is. Regardless of the charges and their accuracy, we have to look at the process. He is a human rights defender, critic and main promoter of the boycott of the La Comay television program and its protagonist Kobbo Santarrosa and a constant watchdog of the actions of the police in cases related to the LGBTTIQ communities,” Gallardo said. “In this country, having these characteristics is being a tempting target of the State, which does not tolerate dissent and punishes it with the irregular handling of cases. We have already repeatedly seen the same strategy of delaying criminal processes and mentally and physically exhausting the activists they arrest as a way of carrying a message against dissent.”

Added Vélez Vega: “We emphasize that we are not adjudicating the case and that we are firmly committed to the principle that no aggressor should go unpunished. This case will be heard in court and we will monitor this process so that it is fair for both parties.”

Meanwhile, CABE clarified that Pedro Julio Serrano has withdrawn as the group’s spokesperson for several weeks.

“Our agenda for the coming months will be committed to the electoral processes, and due to his relationship with the Municipality of San Juan, Pedro Julio Serrano himself had withdrawn from the role of spokesperson and from the discussions on the subject,” the spokespeople said in the statement. “Both he and we are clear and firm that CABE has an important job to do and that it is this equity agenda that should guide our steps.”

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