The Rev. Roy Bourgeois, the Columbus founder of the School of the Americas Watch, and three other protesters avoided prison time Tuesday for their April 24 sit-in at the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington to call attention to 17 Salvadoran women in prison for miscarriages.
During a trial in District Court, the judge gave the protesters credit for time served and ordered a $50 fine for Bourgeois; Ed Kinane, a retired educator and nonviolent peace activist from Syracuse, N.Y.; John Honeck, a counselor and activist from Hamlin, N.Y.; and Paki Wieland, a longtime peace and justice activist and member of Grandmothers for Peace from Northampton, Mass. Each protester could have faced up to six months in prison on the unlawful entry and trespassing charge.
"It was a good day in court," Bourgeois said by telephone after the trial, which started at 9 a.m.
Bourgeois said the group was given credit for about 30 hours that each spent in the Washington lockup before they were released.
Bourgeois and other supporters said the $200 will be sent to 17 women who are held in prison in El Salvador. "We had lots of opportunities to say why we did what we did," he said. "Each of us said in different ways that it was an honor to be in court to express our support and solidarity with these women in El Salvador. We will continue to work for their release."
The women were convicted in a country with deeply conservative abortion laws. They were charged with aggravated homicide and receiving illegal abortions, according to Amnesty International. Bourgeois said he will join a delegation of 10 on Aug. 19 to visit the women in prison. It will follow a March 19 visit to the prison where the women are serving 30-year sentences.
"Today was an opportunity to tell their story," Bourgeois said. Bourgeois said he's disappointed that the group didn't get prison time.
"It was not to be," he said. "He said he could not give us time. I'm a little disappointed."
With no prison time, Bourgeois said the sit-in won't impact the annual vigil at the gates of Fort Benning. A Vietnam veteran and priest, he has led the annual vigil with thousands of protesters outside the Benning Road gate in November to close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly called the School of the Americas.
The group claims soldiers and police officers trained at the institute on post have been linked to human rights violations. Bourgeois said the group already has secured a permit for this year's vigil.
"All systems are go," he said. "We've got the permit."