House of Representatives Project 743, a coup to the demonstrators.

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In February 7, 2017, bill 743 was presented in the House of Representatives. The project was submitted by representatives Maria “Tata” Charbonier and José “Pichy” Torres Zamora, Jorge Navarro, among others. This bill is the response of these representatives to comply with the Anti-crime plan presented by Governor Ricardo Rosselló. This project proposes amendments to articles 74, 182, 194, 197, 230, 246, 248, 281 and 307; as well as adding new articles 200 and 247 to the law 246-2012 known as the “Penal Code of Puerto Rico”.

What are its major changes?

In the new article 200, it is stated that it will constitute a felony and shall be punished with a fixed sentence of three (3) years to anyone with the intention of paralyzing or obstructing projects/public works. The Article specifically says , “any person who with the intent to prevent,” temporary or permanently, any work of construction, public or private, or movement of land, which has the permits, authorizations or endorsements of the agencies concerned, … ” this conviction shall be applied. In the amendments to article 246 called “resistance or obstruction of public authority” it is suggested that preventing, obstructing or delaying a public official while exercising his work will constitute a less serious crime. The new article 247,  tells us that “any person who without authority in law obstructs the provision of services or access to a teaching or health institution or obstructs the provision of services or access to buildings where government services are offered to the public shall incur a misdemeanor.” The amendments to article 248, “Use of disguise in the commission of a crime” adds the following: “Altering or intervening with ordinary activities in an educational public facility,” in a health facility, or in the interior of government buildings, shall be punished with imprisonment for a fixed term of three (3) years, when the offence committed or attempted outside of a serious nature. ”

What does this mean?

This project, already signed by Governor Ricardo Rosselló,  changes the strategies and resources of demonstrations on the island. The new article 200 will specifically affect the manifestations carried out in Peñuelas against the disposition of ashes, demonstrations against the privatization of beaches and especially demonstrations against the destruction of ecosystems by private developers. The amendments to article 246 deprive citizens and public employees of paralyzing work in their agencies when they want to express themselves or carry a message. The new article 247, criminalizes the form and mechanisms of protest used by the students, mechanisms that have been used since the university was created, forcing them to protest without affecting the work and the services and benefits of the institution, which is a clear violation to the constitutional rights of the free expression and the picket line. Finally, the amendments to article 248 criminalize that an individual uses some kind of disguise to avoid being identified. Other mechanisms used in the country to demonstrate have been criminalized too. Not only are the manifestations being carried out in the country are being criminalized by this bill, but they also restrict future manifestations.

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