Charges dropped against four Indigenous activists, one remains imprisoned

Authorities in Mexico have dropped the charges against four Indigenous human rights defenders who have been imprisoned for nearly a year in Guerrero State, despite insufficient evidence against them. They are expected to be released this week.

Amnesty International has welcomed the decision to drop the charges against the four Indigenous human rights defenders but is continuing to call for the release of the remaining defender who is still being held on fabricated charges.

The five members of the Guerrero-based Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (OPIM), Manuel Cruz, Orlando Manzanarez, Natalio Ortega, Romualdo Santiago and Raúl Hernández, were detained and taken to Guerrero’s state prison on charges of murder on 17th April 2008. Charges against all but Raúl Hernández were dropped last night because of a lack of evidence against them.

“There was never sufficient evidence to justify keeping the Indigenous human rights defenders in prison,” said Susan Lee, Americas Director at Amnesty International. “The decision to drop the charges against them is very positive news. Now the next urgent step is to end the unfair detention and trial of Raúl Hernández.”

“It is time for the authorities to recognise that the prosecution case against these Indigenous defenders is politically motivated and based on unreliable and fabricated evidence in order to punish them for their legitimate work promoting the rights of their community.”

The Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’ phaa, OPIM) was founded in 2002 to defend and promote the rights of the Me’ phaa (Tlapanecas) Indigenous People in Mexico.

The southern state of Guerrero, which is home to some 116,000 Me’ phaa Indigenous People, has one of the highest levels of marginalization and some of the lowest indicators of human development in the country.

Amnesty International has documented a pattern of harassment and intimidation against members of Indigenous rights organizations in Guerrero state such as the OPIM over a number of years. Most recently, the Secretary and President of the Organization for the Future of Mixtec Indigenous Peoples (Organizacion para el Futuro de los Pueblos Mixtecos, OFPM) were found murdered on 20 February in Tecoanapa municipality, Guerrero State.

The bodies of the two men were unearthed a thirty minute drive away from where they were abducted by armed men seven days earlier. Both of the bodies have been identified by their families, who report that they show clear signs of torture.