Indigenous human rights activists unfairly detained in Mexico

Five indigenous human rights activists in Mexico are still being held in prison nearly a year after their arrest, despite insufficient evidence against them.

The members of the Guerrero-based Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (OPIM) are held in a Guerrero state prison on charges of murder. They were arrested in April 2008.

By continuing to detain the five unfairly, the Mexican government is ignoring the human rights commitments it made to the United Nations Human Rights Council a month ago.

A federal review judge ordered the release of four of them on 20 October 2008, after ruling that the evidence presented did not implicate them. However the four remain in prison after Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office filed an appeal against the ruling, despite not providing further evidence in the case. They now await a decision by a federal reviewing court regarding their possible release.

The fifth detainee, Raúl Hernández, was denied an injunction by the federal judge on the grounds that two witnesses testified to his presence at the time of the murder. However other eyewitness testimonies that Hernández was not present have been disregarded. He has appealed against the decision to deny an injunction in his case.

” Less than a month ago, Mexico made a commitment at the UN Human Rights Council that it will protect the life and physical integrity of human rights defenders in the country,” said Susan Lee, Americas Program Director at Amnesty International.

“Amnesty International has established that the case against these five prisoners of conscience has been brought in reprisal for their work promoting the rights of their community and exposing abuses by a local political boss and local authorities.

“When social activists are punished for the legitimate work they do, the authorities are sending a message that protecting and promoting human rights carries a high price.”

Manuel Cruz, Orlando Manzanarez, Natalio Ortega, Romualdo Santiago and Raúl Hernández were detained on 17 April 2008. They were charged with the murder of Alejandro Feliciano García on 1 January 2008 in the town of El Camalote, Guerrero. The five were stopped and taken into custody while crossing a routine military checkpoint in the area.

Over a number of years, Amnesty International has documented a pattern of harassment and intimidation in Guerrero state against members of Indigenous rights organizations such as the OPIM.

Most recently, both 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 late at night on 20 February in Tecoanapa municipality, Guerrero State. The bodies of Manuel Ponce Rosas and Raúl Lucas Lucía were unearthed 30 minutes drive away from where they were abducted by armed men seven days earlier. Both of the bodies were identified by their families who reported that they showed clear signs of torture.

Amnesty International has called on the Mexican authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the five prisoners of conscience in Ayutla de los Libres prison, Guerrero State and bring those responsible for the murders of Manuel Ponce Rosas and Raúl Lucas Lucía to justice.