Protestant and Catholic Christians in Peru have joined human rights activists to petition their government to extend a three-year amnesty program aimed at freeing innocent persons imprisoned on sedition charges.

Christians mobilized following a public announcement by President Alberto Fujimori that he will cease granting pardons to persons unjustly accused of involvement with the Shining Path terrorist movement of the 1980s and early 1990s. Concerned Christians say Fujimori's decision could mean that over 300 innocent people will remain in jail for years.

During a press conference on December 2, Fujimori told reporters that, at the end of the month, he will disband the special Ad-hoc Commission that has been investigating cases of persons falsely accused of membership in the Shining Path, a crime that carries prison sentences of 20 years to life. When journalists asked why he was ending the amnesty program, the president stated, "There are no more innocent people in jail in Peru."

Several authoritative voices disagree. They include the Peace and Hope Association, a Christian legal aid service that, since 1996, has gained freedom for 32 persons wrongfully imprisoned for terrorism, the Catholic Episcopal Commission on Social Action, which has handled several hundred similar cases, and Public Defender Jorge Santistevan, who heads the Ad-hoc Commission.

"In total, there are 411 pending requests for pardon. I don't know how many of these are innocent. One is enough to continue (the amnesty program)," stated Santistevan in an interview that appeared Tuesday in the Lima newspaper El Comercio.

Since its formation, the Ad-hoc Commission has helped free 469 persons from prison after determining they were innocent of terrorism charges. ...

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