Mexico: Drop unfair charges against tortured prisoner of conscience

An undocumented migrant who was arrested and tortured by the Mexican police and army is currently facing an unfair trial solely because of his ethnicity and should be released immediately and unconditionally, said Amnesty International today, as it named him a prisoner of conscience. 

In 2009 Ángel Amílcar Colón Quevedo, a member of the Afro-descent Garífuna community, was picked up by police in Tijuana, Mexico, as he attempted to travel from his home in Honduras to the United States. He has been detained since then, charged with being part of a criminal gang. 

“Ángel Colón’s detention and ongoing trial is purely based on his ethnicity, and as such is a travesty of justice. This is a man who has been tortured and severely mistreated. He must be released immediately and unconditionally”, said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. 

“The despicable and inhumane treatment suffered by Ángel Colón at the hands of the Mexican police and army is now being compounded by the fact that federal prosecutors are bringing a case against him using false information extracted under torture.”

Ángel Colón had travelled as an irregular migrant to Tijuana, Baja California state, on his way to the USA. He was hoping to earn money to pay for cancer treatment for his eight-year old son in Honduras. Six months after Ángel Colón’s arrest, his son died. 

Once in Tijuana, he met a local people-smuggler (coyote) who promised to help him cross the US border. He was forced to wait in a house for several days with orders to stay silent and not to look around. On 9 March, armed policemen stormed the house. Fearful of the situation, Ángel Colón fled, but the State Preventive Police arrested him nearby. 

Ángel Colón was struck in the ribs, forced to walk on his knees, kicked, and punched in the stomach by the police. He was then blindfolded and taken to a military base where he could hear the screams of other detainees. He was hit repeatedly and threatened that the same would happen to him. A plastic bag was put over his head to provoke near asphyxiation. He was stripped and forced to lick clean the shoes of other detainees and perform humiliating acts. He was repeatedly called a “fucking nigger” (“pinche negro”).

After 16 hours of such torture and other ill-treatment, Ángel was forced to make a “confessional” statement to the federal public prosecutor. Although he subsequently described his experiences to a judge and said that his earlier statement was false and extracted after torture, it still remains in the case file against him. 

His allegations were later corroborated by independent forensic experts, but no official investigation has been carried out into his treatment, in violation of Mexico’s obligations under international human rights law. Furthermore, the charges against Ángel Colón – belonging to a criminal gang – are being processed on the basis of the information provided under torture.

“Mexico’s police and military use torture on a regular basis to extract “confessions” and Ángel Colón suffered particularly because of his ethnic and national origins. It is a shameful truth that in Mexico the widespread use of torture continues to be tolerated by the authorities and virtually no-one is brought to account for these crimes. This cannot be called justice,” said Erika Guevara. 

Amnesty International has found that people who belong to marginalized social groups are often victims of unfounded prosecutions due to structural discrimination in the Mexican criminal justice system. Some languish in prison simply because of their racial or cultural identity. 

“As our latest prisoner of conscience we will be supporting and campaigning for Ángel Colón and we urge the Federal Attorney General’s Office to drop these charges and release him immediately and unconditionally.”

Additional information:

Ángel Colón is being supported in Mexico by the Centro Prodh (local NGO).