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10 November 2020

Mexican human rights defender Fredy García spends more than a year in arbitrary detention in Oaxaca

Over a year since his arbitrary detention on 6 November 2019, Fredy García a renowned Mexican human rights defender, continues to suffer serious violations of his rights at the hands of the authorities. García has dedicated a large part of his life to promoting social justice, plurality, democracy and civic resistance in the State of Oaxaca. He is the spokesperson for the Committee for the Defence of Indigenous Peoples (CODEDI), an organisation that is committed to protecting the rights of indigenous peoples against the actions of extractive companies in different regions of Oaxaca. Since November 2016, as a result of his work in defence of human rights and for his role as a representative of the organisation, the human rights defender has been subjected to harassment, threats, and criminalisation.

On 6 November 2019, Fredy García was arbitrarily detained while driving to a meeting to which he was invited by public officials in the State of Oaxaca. The arrest took place in relation to an investigation into events that occurred in October 2019 in the southern highlands of the State, where a state investigation agent had been shot dead. After his arrest, Fredy García was held incommunicado for the first eight hours of his detention. He remained in detention until 12 November 2019 when he was brought before a judge for procedural safeguards who not only described the detention as legal, but also opened a criminal process against him for the crimes of “injury” which were considered to be premeditated and carried out with malicious intent, as well as “specific robbery” and “aggravated robbery”. No credible evidence of any crime has been presented against Fredy Garcia. The judge handed down preventive detention as a ‘precautionary measure’, which has kept him unjustly deprived of his liberty for over a year.

The criminal process against Fredy García has been marred by irregularities, including violations of due process. Despite the fact that Article 20 of the Mexican Constitution, establishes that the length of detention before being tried for an offence should not be extended beyond one year, Fredy García passed the one year mark under preventive detention on 6 November 2020. In addition, on 20 October the deadline for the completion of the investigation was reached, without a date being set to hold an interim hearing. The judicial authorities have used the COVID-19 pandemic to justify the extension of García’s process, requiring the human rights defender to, in effect, serve time in prison for a sentence that has not been handed down.

In addition to his arbitrary deprivation of liberty, Fredy Garcia continues to be subjected to serious human rights violations in prison. On 10 July 2020, the defender was severely beaten and threatened by a group of guards at the Tanivet prison in Tlacolula, Oaxaca. Later, the defender was transferred to an isolated area of the prison, where he continued to be beaten by the guards, who threatened him with further beatings if he filed complaints. After two days of isolation, he was transferred to a cell in a different ward, where his telephone conversations were limited to three minutes and he was forced to work outdoors, in direct sunlight, without sufficient shade.

On 7 February 2020, Fredy García denounced to prison authorities the conditions in the prison and the degrading treatment of prisoners, to which he did not receive an adequate response. In late May, the defender also reported that many prisoners, himself included, were displaying symptoms of COVID-19, and that the response by prison authorities was inadequate and prisoners had not received sufficient care. In this context, he filed an appeal for protection with the Eleventh District Court in San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca on 2 July 2020. The defender has not yet been notified by the Court of any possible actions with regard to this appeal. While in prison, Fredy García continues his work in defence of human rights, leading hunger strikes that have been joined by up to 400 inmates, demanding the improvement of the conditions in Tanivet prison in Tlacolula, Oaxaca.

The serious human rights violations carried out against Fredy García form part of a long-standing pattern of retaliation against members of CODEDI for their human rights work, including killings, arbitrary detentions, threats and harassment. Perpetrators of many of these violations continue to enjoy impunity and form part of a strategy to restrict, punish, limit and inhibit the legitimate work of the organisation and human rights defenders more generally in Oaxaca.

Given the seriousness and significance of these events, Front Line Defenders reiterates its repeated calls, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defender Fredy García. Front Line Defenders urges the Mexican authorities to initiate an immediate, exhaustive and impartial investigation into the torture, ill-treatment and threats against Fredy García and to cease attempts to criminalise and harass all those who defend human rights in Mexico.