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10 April 1997 Edition

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Historic US asylum victory

After a two hour wait in a cramped, windowless courtroom on the 10th floor of the Manhattan federal building, Tyrone man Brian Pearson was granted political asylum in the United States following a legal battle lasting five years.

This was the first time that any former Irish republican prisoner has been granted asylum in the US. The extremely detailed and unprecedented 43 page ruling by Judge Philip William's concluded that Pearson had a ``well founded fear of persecution'' if he returned to the six or twenty six counties. Furthermore, it stated that Pearson's ``acts are a classic example of necessary military tactics designed to undermine the bastions of British oppression which he opposed''.

Pearson, 45, was convicted of blowing up an RUC barracks in 1975 and served 12 years with special category status in Long Kesh.

After considering expert testimony from Professors Blum and Wilkinson for the defence and prosecution, Williams ruled that ``clearly there was a political uprising taking place'' in 1975 and that the ``evidence shows that Pearson's acts were in furtherance of the aforementioned conflict''.

He cited Pearson's candid testimony about why, as a result of the attacks on Civil Rights demonstrations and the killing of neighbours and friends by loyalists, he felt it was ``time to get off the fence and help his people instead of hanging his head and walking away''. Williams also quoted Pearson's moving testimony when he stated under cross examination that ``violence where there is an alternative is immoral, but violence where there is no alternative is survival''.

The court accepted Pearson's conviction was for ``political offences'' and went on to state that he ``did not engage in terrorist activity''. Following various character refrences stating that Pearson had led an exemplary life in the US and was ``of no danger to US security'', Williams turned to Pearson's ``well founded fear of persecution'. He said that Pearson had proved that ``the British Government is unwilling or unable to prevent such possible persecution'' if he returned to the six counties''.

At a press conference immediately after the court ruling, Martin Galvin one of Pearson's lawyers said to thunderous applause, ``it's great to be on the winning side for a change''.

The ruling in Pearson's case has now set a precedent for settlement in the cases of six other former Irish republican prisioners who are presently fighting deportation from the US.

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