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28 November 2018

Immediately & Unconditionally Release Dominga González Martínez and 5 Co-Defendants

Front Line Defenders calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Dominga González Martínez and 5 co-defendants jailed for defending their community's right to water.

One year ago, on 27 November 2017, indigenous rights defender Dominga González Martínez was sentenced to 50 years in prison: her five co-defendants, all prominent members of the “Comisión para la Defensa del Agua”, received the same sentence. They were accused of taking part in the killing of Alejandro Issak Basso during a conflict between the community of San Pedro Tlanixco and commercial flower growers from the town of Villa Guerrero, over access to water from the Río Texcaltenco. Dominga González Martínez is an indigenous Nahua woman who for many years has been a prominent member of the “Comisariado Ejidal de San Pedro Tlanixco” which has worked against the privatisation of the water supply which is vital to their community

Witnesses saw Alejandro Issak Basso accidentally fall to his death after slipping. And yet the case against Dominga González Martínez and her co-defendants went forward and was prosecuted without any credible evidence against them. Dominga González Martínez and her co-defendants are human rights defenders (HRDs) innocent of the charges against them and the trial was a miscarriage of justice.

Since 1980, when the authorities gave the concession for the river, which rises in the town of San Pedro Tlanixco, to the municipality of Villa Guerrero, there have been water shortages in the area due to the diversion of water by commercial flower growers. As a result, the community has frequently been left without water, sometimes for weeks at a time. In 2002, CONAGUA (the National Water Commission) gave the water rights to the Río Texcaltenco to the town of Villa Guerrero, but gave the rights to the water from 4 springs to the local community. Several years later the community was told that these rights were no longer valid and that these water rights now also belonged to Villa Guerrero. This has been the basis of an ongoing dispute between the community and the flower growers of Villa Guerrero. While the commercial flower growers benefited from high-level political support, the local community was not properly consulted.

On 1 April 2003, a group of men from Villa Guerrero, led by Alejandro Issak Basso, were seen coming up along a very steep section of the river bank shouting insults and using racist language to accuse the community of polluting the water. Women in the community rang the church bells to summon the community and in the ensuing confusion Alejandro Issak Basso slipped and fell into a ravine and died. There was no proper investigation into the incident by the authorities who simply accepted the claim by the men from Villa Guerrero that Issak Barro had been killed by members of the community.

Instead of carrying out an impartial investigation, the authorities initiated a series of raids and round ups, often at night, to intimidate the community. In the following weeks, three of the water protectors were arrested: Rómulo Arias Mireles, Teófilo Pérez González and Pedro Sánchez Berriozabal. Two other men, Lorenzo Sánchez Berriozabal and Marco Antonio Pérez González, were arrested in 2006 and finally, Dominga Pérez González was violently taken from her home on 9 July, 2007.

From the beginning, the investigation was riddled with inconsistencies. The trial, before the “Primer Tribunal de Alzada del Distrito de Toluca”, was also marred by a reliance on the evidence of “witnesses” who were not present at the time of the incident, and the acceptance of evidence that was both contradictory and implausible. One prosecution witness later admitted that the prosecution witnesses were coached by the sister of Alejandro Issak Basso about who to accuse. A teacher named as having taken part in the attack was in another village giving classes at the time of the incident, while another accused person had been dead for over a year. Dominga González Martínez herself, was in the church with two other women, but the judge simply ignored this evidence. During the first four years of the investigation there was no mention of any woman being involved in the incident. Then, in 2007, one witness mentioned having seen a small dark haired indigenous woman in the group allegedly responsible for Issak Basso’s death. This was the only “evidence” connecting Dominga González Martínez to the alleged crime. An appeal was submitted on 28 May 2018, and a judgement must be delivered within 12 months.

At the time of sentencing, Dominga González Martínez had been in preventive detention for 10 years. Mr. Jan Jarab, the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico has expressed his concern at the “grave violations of the right to due process evident in the case”.1 In his statement at the time of the appeal, Mr. Jarab stated that this was an “opportunity for the state of Mexico to “rectify a grave injustice that had resulted in 6 people spending more than 10 years in prison”.

In a joint report issued on 4 July 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on the issue of rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean and healthy environment, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association , the Special Rapporteur on the disposal of hazardous substances and waste, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, discrimination and xenophobia and the Special Rapporteur on the right to clean drinking water and sanitation all stated that: .”The judicial process relating to the aforementioned case lacked the basic elements of due process and the sentence of 50 years in prison for the crimes of qualified homicide and illegal deprivation of liberty were intended to criminalise human rights defenders involved in the defense of the right to water”.

Front Line Defenders believes that Dominga González Martínez and her 5 co-defendants are human rights defenders who have been imprisoned unjustly for their peaceful work defending the rights of their community and should be released immediately and unconditionally.

For more information:
Jim Loughran