Pablo López Alavez
Environmental rights defender and Zapoteco indigenous leader Pablo López Alavez has been arbitrarily imprisoned for more than 11 years in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. For two decades, the environmental and indigenous peoples rights defender worked to ensure that the San Isidro Aloápam community’s rights to a safe environment and access to water were guarded and guaranteed.
Prior to his detention, Pablo López Alavez exercised a number of community leadership roles, reported on the illegal logging of trees and raised awareness on environmental protection and sustainability.
As a direct consequence of his human rights work, he made powerful enemies of illegal loggers operating in the area and has faced many criminal accusations. In 2000, the human rights defender was convicted of attacking public roads, but an appeal court later overturned the verdict. He was also accused, but not convicted, of assault, wood robbery and damages.
On 15 August 2010, the Pablo López Alavez was arbitrarily and violently detained by a group of more than 15 unidentified men wearing hoods, who surrounded him and his family as they sat in their car.
“They put high-powered rifles to our heads and told us to not move. The others opened the door and took out my husband and grandson,” said Pablo López Alavez’s wife, Yolanda Pérez, in an interview with Front Line Defenders.
He was beaten and forced into another vehicle, where he was held incommunicado for hours without his captors identifying themselves or showing an arrest warrant. Hours later, he was handed over to the state police and transferred to the prison in Villa de Etla, Oaxaca, on a groundless charge of shooting and killing two men from San Miguel Aloápam in 2007.
Following 7 years in detention without trial, and despite the human rights defender testifying and presenting proof that he was elsewhere on the day and time of the shooting and there being many inconsistencies and contradictions in witness' testimony, the judge at the trial found him guilty and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. This sentence was confirmed by the Second Criminal Chamber of the Superior Court of Justice of Oaxaca in October 2018, using the same arguments as the initial ruling, and even committing the same spelling errors as the first instance court.
On 25 April 2017, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations (WGAD) issued Opinion No. 23/2017, calling the deprivation of liberty of Pablo López Alavez arbitrary, and recognising the reason for his arrest as his legitimate activity in defence of the rights of land, natural resources and indigenous peoples, and his leadership of 20 years of the defence of forests in San Miguel and San Isidro Aloapam, Oaxaca, against deforestation programmes. The WGAD has recommended his immediate release.
Most recently, in October 2021, following the defence presenting an Amicus Brief and audience on the defender’s case to the Superior Court of Justice in Oaxaca, the court confirmed the order of formal imprisonment against him. The case is currently in the hands of the Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Oaxaca.
The persecution of Pablo López Alavez has extended to his family, and in particular to his wife, Yolanda Peréz, who is also an environmental defender. She has been the target of death threats and intimidation and she has been forced to leave her home in the mountains and settle in the city for her protection.