By Sam Levin
President Barack Obama has commuted the sentence of Oscar López Rivera, a victory for the Puerto Rican independence activist who is considered to be one of the world’s longest-serving political prisoners.
In his final days in office, Obama has issued a record number of pardons and commutations, including granting the release of Chelsea Manning on Tuesday, the U.S. army soldier who became one of the most famous whistleblowers in modern times.
López Rivera, whose commutation was announced on Tuesday along with those of 208 others, has been incarcerated for 35 years for his role in fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence.
The 74-year-old, who has spent more than half of his life behind bars, was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” for plotting against the U.S. The U.S. government had also classified him as a terrorist.
If Obama had not intervened, he would have remained in captivity until 26 June 2023, five months after his 80th birthday.
Jan Susler, López Rivera’s lawyer, said the prisoner’s release is a huge win in the ongoing fight for Puerto Rican independence, adding that she was grateful that Obama understood “there wasn’t any legitimate reason to keep Oscar in prison.
“We have to celebrate every victory,” she said. “We have a lot of work left to do, and now Oscar will be able to join us, and we can work side by side.”
Susler broke the news to López Rivera.
“He said, ‘Can you imagine a better birthday present for my daughter?’” Susler told the Guardian by phone, adding: “He’s a very centered, peaceful human being, and that’s how he received the news.”
In a recent interview with the Guardian, he said he still believes in what he described as the “noble cause” of full sovereignty for his Caribbean birthplace, which is classified as a U.S. “territory”.
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