Mexico: Release of tortured prisoner of conscience comes years too late

Prisoner of conscience and torture victim Ángel Amílcar Colón Quevedo has been released from prison after five years in pre-trial detention, in a move that is welcome but long overdue, said Amnesty International.

Ángel Colón was arrested by police in Tijuana, northern Mexico, while travelling from his home in Honduras to the United States in March 2009. He was then tortured by police and soldiers: beaten, asphyxiated and racially abused. He was forced to sign a false statement which was used to implicate him in criminal activity. He retracted the statement when brought before a judge and reported his torture to the authorities who failed to take any action.

The Mexican Federal Attorney General has now agreed to drop charges against Ángel Colón and he has been released unconditionally.

“Ángel Colón suffered torture at the hands of the Mexican authorities and has had years of his life wasted in pre-trial detention. This is an outrage,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“The Mexican authorities can and must do more to ensure torture is never used by police or military officials, and that any reports of torture are swiftly and thoroughly investigated. They cannot allow the injustices inflicted on Ángel Colón to ever be repeated.”

Ángel Colón is an Afro-descent Garífuna, and Amnesty International believes his torture, detention and prosecution were the result of discrimination: based on his ethnical origin and his status as undocumented migrant.

After being picked up by the police in 2009 he was struck in the ribs, forced to walk on his knees, kicked, and punched in the stomach. He was then blindfolded and taken to a military base where he could hear the screams of other detainees. He was threatened that the same would happen to him and was hit repeatedly. 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”).

“I’d like that the people who committed these acts are brought to justice”, said Ángel Colón to Amnesty International when representatives visited him in prison.

“My message to all those who are showing me their solidarity, and are against torture and discrimination, is don’t drop your guard. A new horizon is dawning. I feel happy about what is happening.”

“Ángel’s release is the first step that the Mexican government has taken to restore his dignity, his freedom and his life. Now they acknowledge that he is innocent – but in 2009 they paraded him as a criminal in front of TV cameras. He deserves justice and full reparation,” said Mario Ernesto Patrón, head of Ángel’s legal team and director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre (Centro Prodh) in Mexico.

Although the Federal Attorney General’s Office recorded Angel’s torture complaint in 2009, no steps were tak-en to investigate it. Official forensic medical examinations, which are mandatory according to national and international human rights standards, only took place four years later and were left unfinished.

In addition to investigating the allegations of torture and ensuring that Ángel Colón receives effective remedies and adequate reparation, Amnesty International is also calling on the Mexican government to overhaul its cur-rent approach to forensic medical examinations of alleged torture victims in order to comply fully with interna-tional standards set out in the 1999 Istanbul Protocol. In Angel’s case, the role of independent forensic experts was central to demonstrating he had suffered torture.

“Ángel’s case is a clear example of the failure of the Federal Attorney General’s Office to document torture cases properly. In most cases official forensic medical examinations are never carried out. If they are, they take place too late. They tend to re-traumatise victims and discourage them from pursuing their complaints. Also, official forensic experts often reach unfounded conclusions which prosecutors use to cover up torture, instead of carrying out proper investigations,” said Erika Guevara.

“The Mexican authorities need to recognise more widely the evidential value of examinations conducted by independent experts. This would be the first step to improve the country’s dismal record of impunity for torture and other ill-treatment.”

Background

Amnesty International has been campaigning for Ángel Colón’s freedom since July 2014 when it named him a prisoner of conscience.

On 4 September Amnesty International published a report, Out of control: Torture and other ill-treatment in Mexico which noted that reports of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of police and soldiers had risen by 600 per cent over a decade. The report is part of the organization's global Stop Torture campaign, launched in early 2014.

Sixty-four per cent of Mexicans said they were afraid of being tortured if detained by the police or other authori-ties, according to a survey conducted by Amnesty International.