January 2010

In this publication, PBI has chosen to address the issue of human rights defenders who are imprisoned and accused of committing crimes. We will also deal with political prisoners in Mexico, individuals who are rarely presented by that name. In recent years, we have observed a process in which the distinction between “political prisoner” and “unjustly imprisoned human rights defender” has become murky. PBI aims to highlight cases about which it is directly aware. Here, beyond questions of definitions, we are faced with situations in which defenders, men and women, are either serving jail terms or facing arrest warrants. Many of these warrants are based on dubious legal principles or have been executed with violations of due process.

Several sources have indicated that there are more than 500 people in jail in Mexico who could be considered political prisoners. They were detained based on accusations of participating in armed guerrilla groups, for activities related to social protests, or because of crimes in which there are strong indications that evidence has been manipulated by groups holding positions of power.

One of the best known cases, both within and outside of Mexico, is that of the 62 people jailed during the social protests in Oaxaca in 2006–2007. In this newsletter, we describe the paradigmatic case of Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno. We will also address the human rights violations suffered in Oaxaca by more than 130 Zapotec indigenous people from the Loxicha  region. They were imprisoned in 1996, and eight of them remain behind bars serving prison sentences of up to 34 years.

In Guerrero, we outline the accusations levelled against human rights defender David Valtierra Arango. He is one of the founders of Radio Ñomndaa, a community radio station which broadcasts from Xochistlahuaca. The Organisation of the Me’phaa Indigenous People (Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’phaa, OPIM) also works in the state of Guerrero, and PBI has interviewed two OPIM members: Raúl Hernández, a prisoner of conscience who has been in jail since April 2008, and Cuauhtémoc Ramírez, former OPIM president accompanied by PBI, who has an arrest warrant pending against him which seriously limits his ability to work.

Since 2002, PBI has accompanied the Cerezo Committee (Comité Cerezo) in Mexico City. The Committee has denounced the human rights violations suffered by three of the Cerezo brothers when they were jailed in 2001. The brothers, since released, have shared their reflections in this newsletter. We conclude the thematic block by detailing several factors involved in the violations of the basic rights of the prison population.

Download the Bulletin: <media 5815>Human Rights Defenders Behind Bars</media>