Posted 2008/5/30

Mexico: Continued detention of five indigenous rights defenders and risk of imminent arrest of another ten defenders

Front Line is deeply concerned following reports of the continued detention of Natalio Ortega Cruz, Romualdo Santiago Enedina, Raúl Hernández Abundio, Orlando Manzanarez Lorenzo and Manuel Cruz Victoriano, all of whom are members of the Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me'phaa (Organisation of the Me'phaa Indigenous People, OPIM). They were arrested on 18 April 2008 and detained in Ayutla, in the State of Guerrero, and are among a group of fifteen OPIM members whose arrests had been ordered on 11 April 2008. The remaining ten members of the OPIM are reportedly at risk of arrest at any time. Since 2002, the OPIM has worked in the defence of indigenous rights in the communities of Ayutla de los Libres and Acatepec, Costa Montaña de Guerrero.

Further Information

Posted 30/05/2008 On 11 April 2008, the Examining Magistrate of the Judicial District of Allende, Judge Alfredo Sánchez Sánchez, ordered the arrest of fifteen members of the OPIM, among them the president of the organisation Cuauthemoc Ramirez, for the murder of Alejandro Feliciano García, who is reportedly linked to the Army and branches of the police and who was killed on 1 January 2008. On 18 April 2008, five members of the OPIM whose arrests had been ordered were detained in a location between Ayutla and the community of El Camalote, before being taken to detention facilities of the Investigative Ministerial Police of Ayutla where they were subject to physical and psychological torture in order to coerce them into confessing a crime they did not commit. The detainees reported these facts to representatives of the Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de Guerrero (Human Rights Commission of the State of Guerrero). On 23 April 2008, the judge issued a detention order for the five detainees, without proof of their guilt and without having heard their statements.

According to reports there is no conclusive evidence against the detainees; the judge unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the detainees from receiving the help of a local human rights lawyer and he refused to hear their statements, meaning that his decision seemed to be based solely on the case of the prosecution. According to the five detainees, they were threatened and tortured before being taken to prison. They will remain in detention throughout their trial without the option of bail. In accordance with Mexican law they may be detained for a minimum of ten months.

The OPIM has been receiving threats for a number of years. These threats have intensified since the organisation began to campaign on behalf of two indigenous Me'phaa women, Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantu, who were reportedly raped by members of the Mexican Army in 2002 (cases which are currently being investigated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights - IACHR), and the forced sterilisation of fourteen Me'phaa men in the community of El Camalote in 1998 (a case in which the IACHR ruled in favour of the victims – case 66/2007). On 9 February 2008, Lorenzo Fernández Ortega, the brother of Inés Fernández Ortega and a member of the OPIM, was found dead and his body showed obvious signs of torture. No autopsy was carried out although it is obligatory in such cases. Leaders of the OPIM such as Obtilia Eugenio Manuel continue to be harassed and to receive death threats.

Front Line believes that the detention of human rights defenders Natalio Ortega Cruz, Romualdo Santiago Enedina, Raúl Hernández Abundio, Orlando Manzanarez Lorenzo and Manuel Cruz Victoriano is related to their work in the defence of human rights, in particular their work in the defence of the rights of indigenous communities in Mexico. Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of all members of the OPIM and of their families.

Action Update Needed. Before taking further action on this case please contact info@frontlinedefenders.org for further information