Dr. Luis Williams Pollo Rivera
Dr. Luis Williams Pollo Rivera died in arbitrary detention on February 12, 2012. Dr. Pollo was a surgeon who specialized in traumatology and orthopedics in Peru. He was serving a 10 year prison sentence for allegedly rendering support to the Shining Path “through his medical knowledge.”
In 1992, Dr. Pollo was accused of supporting the Shining Path “through his medical knowledge.” Within weeks, he was sentenced to life in prison for treason by a military tribunal of masked judges after having been provided ten minutes to present his defense. The Shining Path member who alleged that Dr. Pollo provided him with medical treatment later affirmed in writing that the police pressured him into making a false accusation. As a result, a civilian court later acquitted Dr. Pollo of all charges in 1994. The Supreme Court of Peru affirmed this decision in 1996.
On August 26, 2003, Dr. Pollo was arrested and physically carried out of the hospital where he was working by members of the National Intelligence Directorate (DIRIN). He was again accused of rendering support to the Shining Path “through his medical knowledge.” At trial, the government presented no evidence that Dr. Pollo ever associated with the Shining Path, spoke out against the Peruvian government, or advocated violence. The only evidence presented was statements by Shining Path members, obtained under interrogation, that Dr. Pollo provided them with medical treatment between 1989-1991. Dr. Pollo strenuously denied these claims and several witnesses backed his version of events. The National Terrorism Chamber convicted Dr. Pollo and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment. The Supreme Court of Peru upheld the conviction.
Whether or not Dr. Pollo provided this treatment, however, is immaterial. The act of providing medical treatment does not violate Peruvian or international law. On the contrary, doctors have an obligation to help the injured, regardless of their patients’ political affiliation, beliefs, or actions. The Peruvian government’s prosecution of Dr. Pollo was therefore a clear violation of international law. In 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in De La Cruz Flores v. Peru reiterated the international prohibition on criminalizing medical acts. In that case, the court ordered Peru to release a doctor who was detained for allegedly aiding a terrorist group by administering needed medical treatment.
Freedom Now worked with Dr. Pollo’s Peruvian counsel, Carolina Loayza Tamayo, a professor at the Universidad de Lima, who represented him before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Dr. Pollo’s case was deemed admissible by the Commission.
In May 2010, Freedom Now filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Dr. Pollo’s behalf. The Working Group determined in February 2011 his detention violated international law.
Dr. Pollo’s health had declined substantially in recent years. He suffered from diabetes mellitus with progressive loss of vision from an unspecified paralytic syndrome and secondary hypertension. He also suffered from spinal injuries resulting from torture inflicted on him during his first period of imprisonment. In 2007, Peruvian authorities moved Dr. Pollo to a hospital in order to comply with an order by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights that called for immediate medical attention. Although Dr. Pollo spent these last few years in a hospital, he did so under the authority of prison officials as he remained a prisoner.
Just days before his death, Dr. Pollo had been moved to the infectious diseases ward, where his health rapidly deteriorated. Serious questions have been raised as to the quality of medical care Dr. Pollo had been receiving.
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Can you imagine a doctor being imprisoned just for treating a patient, or a journalist detained simply for publishing an article critical of his government?