By Jacob Kamaras and Sean Savage with The Jewish Press.com
“There are, I think, almost 3,000 Americans in foreign jails. Almost all of them are in there for doing something.” That is the assessment given to JNS.org by U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY), a leading advocate for the freedom of 53-year-old Brooklyn flooring contractor Jacob Ostreicher – who, according to his supporters, is wrongly imprisoned in Bolivia and therefore falls outside the “almost 3,000 Americans” cited by Turner. Ostreicher’s situation is one of three high-profile cases of American Jews overseas who remain either controversially imprisoned or held hostage.
In early October, lawyers for 63-year-old Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for trying to bring that country’s Jewish community Internet access, announced that a doctor who reviewed Gross’s medical records found a tumor in his right shoulder that may be cancerous. The tumor is a “potentially life-threatening medical problem that has not been adequately evaluated to modern medical standards” by Cuban doctors, according to Dr. Alan A. Cohen. Since that revelation, Cuba has been “surprisingly quiet in response, and I say surprisingly because typically they tend to be very aggressive at responding to claims about Alan’s situation, and I think the detailed nature of Dr. Cohen’s assessment has flummoxed them and they’re not quite sure how they can respond,” said Gross lawyer Jared Genser.
Gross, who lived in Potomac, Md., received a 15-year prison sentence even though he was working with “peaceful, non-dissident, Jewish groups” in Cuba, according to the US. Cuba convicted him of “crimes against the state.” In August, Gross’s lawyers filed a petition asking the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to conclude that Cuba had violated Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – a treaty that guarantees freedom of expression and the rights to receive and disseminate information freely through any media of choice – by imprisoning Gross. Cuba “didn’t point to anything [Gross] did beyond provide publicly available computer equipment to Jewish communities down in Cuba, and that falls squarely within the protections for article 19 of the ICCPR,” Genser said, making his ongoing detention “a flagrant violation of Cuba’s obligations of international law.”
Cuba has 60 days to respond to the UN petition. Gross’s team is expecting the UN arbitrary detention working group to hear the case in mid-November and to issue an opinion in mid-December. The group’s opinions are not binding under international law and there is no enforcement provision that could compel Cuba to comply, but Genser said a ruling in Gross’s favor could still be a significant step. On Capitol Hill, the push for Gross’s freedom received broad bipartisan support in September, with 44 U.S. senators signing a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro asking for Gross’s release.