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25 June 2019

Migrant rights defenders Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez and Irineo Mujica still face 24 years in prison despite release from pretrial detention

Front Line Defenders condemns the ongoing persecution and criminalisation of migrant rights defenders Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, whose charges have not been dropped despite their recent release from pretrial detention in Chiapas.

Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez and Irineo Mujica were detained without a warrant and held on fabricated charges from 5 June 2019 to 12 June 2019. Front Line Defenders has received information that an urgent appeal sent by Front Line Defenders to the Mexican authorities in February 2019 was used as “evidence” against the human rights defenders. On 12 June 2019, a judge at the Federal Criminal Justice Center of the State of Chiapas ordered their release, but charges have not been dropped and if found guilty in a future trial the defenders face up to 24 years in prison.

Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez is a Mexican human rights defender who has worked on migration issues for the past 15 years. He founded the Migrant Culture Collective, where he assists the passing migrant caravans in accessing humanitarian aid such as shelters. He has also collaborated with the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City and the University of Columbia in New York on academic research projects related to migration. Due to his human rights work, he was previously detained in 2011 in Tapachula, when documenting human rights violations against migrants.

Irineo Mujica has defended human rights for more than fifteen years, promoting migrants’ rights and immigration reforms in both Mexico and the United States. He is the director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras in Mexico, an organisation working in Mexico and the US to promote and protect the rights of migrants. He has also founded seven migrant shelters in Mexico, documented human rights abuses committed against migrants by the authorities and organised crime, and accompanied a number of migrant caravans.

Over the past week, Front Line Defenders received information that the fabricated evidence used against Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez, including the complaints allegedly made against him by migrants, contained information taken directly from an urgent appeal sent to the authorities by Front Line Defenders in February 2019. In the urgent appeal, Front Line Defenders had brought attention to the continuous targeting of human rights defenders who provide humanitarian aid to migrants. The files used in the criminal process against Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez included his picture and a screenshot of the urgent appeal taken from the website of Front Line Defenders. Front Line Defenders seeks to increase the visibility and protection of human rights defenders by sharing information with relevant authorities. It strongly condemns the use of this information by local and national authorities to criminalise human rights defenders.

On 12 June 2019, after a 13-hour long hearing of Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez’s case and an eight-hour long hearing of Irineo Mujica’s case, the human rights defenders were released due to lack of evidence. The next day, the Mexican Minister of Interior Olga Sánchez Cordero publicly questioned the release of the human rights defenders and accused Pueblo Sin Fronteras, of which Irineo Mujica is the director, of attracting migrants to Mexico. The Minister stated in a popular television show that “other persons who are members of this organisation have really provoked those caravans. So, the fact that the judge determined that there was not enough evidence means that maybe the investigation had not been put together well". On 19 June, the General Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal against the decision of judge Héctor Manuel Cervantes Martínez to release Irineo Mujica due to lack of evidence.

The General Prosecutor now has the option to present further evidence, and if found guilty in a future trial, the human rights defenders face 24 years in prison. Their ongoing criminalisation and persecution echoes a broader trend in Mexico and along the caravan route: an upcoming Front Line Defenders report (July 2019) documents the cases of migrant rights defenders in Mexico and the United States who have been detained, physically attacked and put on trial for their peaceful work defending the rights and lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the Americas.

Front Line Defenders has urged the authorities in Mexico to:

1. Immediately drop all charges against Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, as it is believed that they are solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;

2. Immediately cease the persecution, arrest, detention, harassment, defamation, and intimidation of migrant rights defenders in Mexico;

2. Take measures to ensure that government officials or other public figures refrain from making statements or declarations stigmatising the legitimate work of migrant rights defenders;

3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, in consultation with them;

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Mexico, especially those protecting the rights of migrants, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.

Maria San Martin
HRD Visibility Coordinator