The Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Columbus resident and founder of School of the Americas Watch, and three other protesters appear in a Washington, D.C. court Friday to face an unlawful entry charge at the Embassy of El Salvador.
Bourgeois, 76, was arrested April 24 with 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., to call attention to 17 Salvadoran women sentenced to prison for miscarriages.
Hendrik Voss, a national organizer for SOA Watch, said the 9:30 a.m. hearing will set a court date to go on trial for unlawful entry. The four staged a sit-in to call attention to what they’re calling a grave injustice to the Salvadoran women.
“Where there is injustice, silence is complicity,” Bourgeois said. “For that reason, we were at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, D.C. to express our solidarity with these women.”
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Two days before the sit-in, Bourgeois said members of the embassy staff delivered a petition with 300,000 signatures to President Salvador Sánchez Cerén to free the women.
The sit-in came nearly a month after Bourgeois and a delegation of 20 SOA Watch supporters met the president and visited the prison.
“We said we will return to the U.S. and tell their story to other people,” Bourgeois said. “We are here to ask that you here at embassy of El Salvador do all you can to get leaders to free these women. This is wrong.”
Voss said it’s possible the charge could be dropped, but that’s just an option. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s hard to say.”
Bourgeois and others could face up to six months in prison if convicted. If that happens, Voss said the decision won’t have an impact on the annual November protest at the gates of Fort Benning.
A Vietnam veteran and priest, Bourgeois has led the annual vigil with thousands of protesters outside the Benning Road gate 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.
Voss said there are others to step in and continue the protest if Bourgeois gets a prison sentence. “If they throw us in jail for six months, it will be an honor to go to prison for these women,” Bourgeois said. “We will go gladly to show our support for these women.”