Case History: María Edith Escalón Portilla
On 5 September 2015, human rights defender and member of human rights organisation Defensoría y Estrategias Integrales para los Derechos Humanos y Territoriales – DESIDE (Defence of and Integral Strategies for Human and Territorial Rights) María Edith Escalón Portilla lodged a formal complaint with the public prosecutor of Veracruz State regarding threats, intimidation and surveillance against her and other members of the organisation.
DESIDE colleagues Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera were killed on 31 July 2015 in Mexico City.
After the murders, vehicles belonging to the human rights defenders had also been sabotaged. Sugar was placed in the petrol tank of María Edith Escalón Portilla's car.
María Edith Escalón Portilla is a member of Defensoría y Estrategias Integrales para los Derechos Humanos y Territoriales – DESIDE, a Veracruz-based grassroots organisation which works on human rights violations. They assist communities facing illegal development projects on their lands, denouncing and publicising excessive use of force by state security forces.
On 5 September 2015, human rights defender and member of human rights organisation Defensoría y Estrategias Integrales para los Derechos Humanos y Territoriales – DESIDE (Defence of and Integral Strategies for Human and Territorial Rights) Ms María Edith Escalón Portilla lodged a formal complaint with the public prosecutor of Veracruz State regarding threats, intimidation and surveillance against her and other members of the organisation.
Currently, the members of the organisation are working on a case in which eight young activists from Veracruz University (Universidad Veracruzana) were attacked in their home on 5 June 2015 by unidentified individuals armed with rifles, pistols, machetes and baseball bats. This was the last case on which their fellow human rights defenders Mr Ruben Espinosa and Ms Nadia Vera had been working before they were killed on 31 July 2015 in Mexico City.
After the murders, vehicles belonging to the human rights defenders had also been sabotaged. Sugar was placed in the petrol tank of María Edith Escalón Portilla's car, as well as the van which Julián Ramírez Olivares uses to visit communities. The vehicles therefore could not be driven. Furthermore, the brakes of the vehicle used by Silvia Colmenero Morales were cut, and water for washing the windscreen was replaced with oil.
In addition, following the killing of Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera, a defamation campaign against the members of DESIDE began and it has intensified since the human rights defenders denounced the attack of 5 June 2015, in which they provided video evidence showing police cooperation with the attackers and further showing that the police received orders to abandon the young people, some of them unconscious, in the street. At the beginning of June, prior to the national elections, the Secretariat for Public Security published a report in which Julián Ramírez and other colleagues working on environmental rights were labelled dangers to society and illegitimately accused of using violent tactics. Following these incidents, the human rights defenders decided to flee the state for their own safety.
DESIDE has reported the surveillance of their offices since it began. DESIDE also publicised the threats which Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera were subjected to before fleeing the state, and signalled that the state of Veracruz should be held responsible should anything happen to them, their families or their colleagues.
On 12 August 2015, the human rights defenders of DESIDE returned to Veracruz, having temporarily fled to Mexico City following the murders of Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera. They were accompanied by members of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. They sought the accompaniment as they had heard a rumour that they would be targeted on their return.
On 27 August 2015 María Edith Escalón Portilla and Giovanna Mazzotti Pabello, along with fellow human rights defender and member of DESIDE, Mr Julián Ramírez Olivares, submitted complaints to the public prosecutor of Mexico City regarding the intimidation and threats which forced Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera to flee Veracruz.
One day later, on 28 August 2015, María Edith Escalón Portilla and fellow DESIDE member Ms Giovanna Mazzotti Pabello each received emails in which they were warned that they were the best candidates to become the next Nadia (“Tu eres la mejor candidata para ser la siguiente nadia”) in reference to Nadia Vera. The death threats warned the HRDs to “calm themselves” (“se calmarán”) or they would be kidnapped. One of the young activists who was attacked on 5 June 2015 also received a similar email.
The offices and homes of the members of DESIDE have also been under constant surveillance for months, with HRDs subjected to intimidation and threats. Sources told Front Line Defenders that members of the state police force, as well as the specialised police force known as the Civil Force (Fuerza Civil) are conducting the surveillance of DESIDE offices in Veracruz. This surveillance has increased since the killing of Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera. Following a number of meetings at the offices, members of the organisation have also been followed for some blocks in an obvious and intimidatory manner by armed individuals in civilian clothing. These individuals are known to be paid by the authorities and are believed to have been instructed to harass journalists and protesters. The spokespersons of the young activists who were attacked have also reported surveillance of their homes.
In addition to the attacks, threats, and surveillance endured by HRDs in the area, on 22 August 2015 the cultural centre of DESIDE member Ms Silvia Colmenero Morales, in which the members of DESIDE had been staying in Veracruz, was raided.