Mexico Must Free Indigenous Activists Jailed on Trumped-Up Charges

Press Release
June 13, 2012

Mexico Must Free Indigenous Activists Jailed on Trumped-Up Charges

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @spksingh

(Washington, D.C.) -- Amnesty International today demands that Mexican authorities unconditionally release two indigenous men imprisoned after an unfair trial in the central state of Puebla. In a letter delivered on Tuesday to officials at Mexico's Supreme Court, the human rights organization called for the immediate review of the case, in line with international standards on fair trials and the Mexican constitution.

In 2010, José Ramón Aniceto Gómez and Pascual Agustín Cruz from the Nahua indigenous community of Atla were convicted to seven years in prison on a fabricated car-theft charge. Both men deny the allegation.

Amnesty International has named them prisoners of conscience after concluding that they were arrested and imprisoned as a reprisal for their work to improve their community's access to water.

"These two men are victims of a justice system that often discriminates against poor and indigenous people," said Javier Zúñiga, special adviser to Amnesty International. "The convictions against them only came about through an investigation and prosecution that were a complete sham."

In the case of Gómez and Cruz, there was no proper investigation to support the charges. The judge ignored the defense's evidence while accepting the prosecution's case without question.

These issues were further compounded by the fact that the defendants -- who can only express themselves in limited Spanish -- were never offered an interpreter or a defense lawyer familiar with their native language or culture.

"We would have understood better in Nahuatl, because that's our language…our traditions," José Ramón Aniceto Gómez told Amnesty International. "If only we could get out of here one day, one month, out there we’ll be happy, working and law abiding, not presenting ourselves to others as enemies."

The men have already served more than two years of their seven-year sentence in Huauchinango prison, where their family members cannot make regular visits due to the cost and difficulty of travelling there across the mountains from Atla.

Elected by their community in 2008 to carry out public works, the two were instrumental in bringing running water into many homes. Yet the project was cut short after a powerful local group controlling the water supply alleged that the two indigenous men had stolen a car. Despite a lack of evidence to support these claims, the men were arrested, put on trial and convicted.

"Although the Mexican authorities had approved and funded the project to supply water to the indigenous community in Atla, they failed to protect the scheme's leaders," said Zúñiga. "Authorities owe it to these two men and the indigenous community they represent to set the record straight and carry out a full investigation into what happened."

Amnesty International has documented several other cases where Mexican human rights defenders have been prosecuted and convicted on the basis of fabricated evidence.

In Mexico City on Tuesday and in many cities around the world on Wednesday, Amnesty International is leading public events in solidarity with José Ramón Aniceto Gómez and Pascual Agustín Cruz, demanding their immediate and unconditional release.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.