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Panama faces probe over alleged torture

  • Story Highlights
  • Commission says it received complaint from Velez Loor in 2004 of alleged torture
  • Velez Loor sentenced to prison term for illegal entry into Panama, Panama says
  • Officials at Panamanian embassy in Washington did not return request for comment
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has been asked to investigate whether Panama tortured an Ecuadorian citizen who was being held as an illegal immigrant, an official hemispheric human rights organization said.

Jesus Tranquilino Velez Loor was arrested November 11, 2002, and deported to Ecuador on September 10, 2003. During that time, he was held without receiving procedural guarantees, the right to be heard and the right to present a defense, said the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

"The case also involves the lack of investigation of complaints of torture presented by Mr. Velez Loor before the Panamanian authorities, as well as the inhumane conditions of detention under which he was held in several Panamanian penitentiaries," the human rights commission said in a release Tuesday.

The human rights panel, which is part of the 35-nation Organization of American States, said it referred the case to the court last week because Panama did not adopt sufficient measures to address issues raised in a previous commission report.

Velez Loor "was sentenced to a prison term for having repeatedly entered Panama illegally. ... Panamanian law provides that foreign nationals, who repeatedly enter Panama, without the necessary papers, will be imprisoned for two years and then deported," Panama said in a 2006 report.

Velez Loor admitted he had gone into Panama without proper papers or visas.

The commission said it received an e-mailed complaint from Velez Loor on February 10, 2004, "in which he claims to have undergone torture, forced isolation, and mistreatment at the hands of Panamanian police officers at two Panamanian detention centers without being given the opportunity to defend himself, without the benefit of any court of law, without being allowed to make a telephone call and while being deprived of all medical care."

Panama denied those allegations in the 2006 human rights commission report.

Officials at the Panamanian embassy in Washington did not return a telephone request Tuesday from CNN for comment on the latest development.

The human rights commission consists of seven members who act in a personal capacity, without representing any country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.

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