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UNITED MEXICAN STATES: Mexico: Charges against four Indigenous prisoners of conscience dropped, but one still unfairly held

18 Mar 2009
Region: UNITED MEXICAN STATES
Topic: Indigenous people Minority group
Amnesty International today welcomed the decision to drop the charges against four Indigenous human rights defenders, who have been imprisoned for nearly a year in Guerrero State, but called for the release of the remaining defender who is still being held on fabricated charges.
“There was never sufficient evidence to justify keeping the Indigenous human rights defenders in prison,” said Susan Lee, Americas Director at Amnesty International. “The decision to drop the charges against them is very positive news. Now the next urgent step is to end the unfair detention and trial of Raul Hernandez.”

“It is time for the authorities to recognise that the prosecution of Indigenous activists is politically motivated and based on unreliable and fabricated evidence in order to punish them for their legitimate work promoting the rights of their community.”

Five members of the Guerrero-based Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (OPIM), Manuel Cruz, Orlando Manzanarez, Natalio Ortega, Romualdo Santiago and Raul Hernandez, were detained and taken to Guerrero’s state prison on charges of murder on 17th April 2008. Charges against all but Raul Hernandez were dropped last night because of a lack of evidence against them. The four members of the OPIM are expected to be released this week.

Background Information
On 17 April 2008, Manuel Cruz, Orlando Manzanarez, Natalio Ortega, Romualdo Santiago and Raul Hernandez were detained and charged with the murder of Alejandro Feliciano Garcia on 1 January 2008 in the town of El Camalote, Guerrero. The five members of the OPIM were stopped and taken into custody while crossing a routine military checkpoint in the area. Arrest warrants for another ten OPIM members have also been issued in connection with the murder, but have not been acted on.

The Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (Organizacion del Pueblo Indigena Me’ phaa, OPIM) was founded in 2002 to defend and promote the rights of the Me’ phaa (Tlapanecas) Indigenous People in Mexico. The southern state of Guerrero, which is home to some 116,000
Me’ phaa Indigenous People, has one of the highest levels of marginalization and some of
the lowest indicators of human development in the country.

Amnesty International has documented a pattern of harassment and intimidation against members of Indigenous rights organizations in Guerrero state such as the OPIM over a number of years. Most recently, 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 on 20 February in Tecoanapa municipality, Guerrero State. The bodies of the two men were unearthed a thirty minute drive away from where they were abducted by armed men seven days earlier. Both of the bodies have been identified by their families, who report that
they show clear signs of torture.

For more information, please see:
Promoting Indigenous Rights in Mexico: Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s
Organziation (AMR 41/040/2008);
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR41/040/2008/en

Urgent action on the recent case of the death of two members of the Organization for the Future of Mixtec Indigenous Peoples:
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR41/010/2009/en

A short web-clip with footage of the 5 prisoners of conscience and an interview with one of the wives of the detainees is available on:

Windows Media Player -
http://emedia.amnesty.org/netstorage/mexico/MexicoPOCsENG.asx

Real Player version -
http://emedia.amnesty.org/netstorage/mexico/MexicoPOCsENG.ram

For further details or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Josefina Salomon P:+44 207 413 5562, M:+44 7778 472 116,
jsalomon@amnesty.org

18 March 2009

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