MEXICO: Families of Innocent of Acteal march for justice

Tuxtla March - Dec 08Families and friends of The Innocent of Acteal have marched to government offices in Tuxtla Gutierrez (the state capital of Chiapas) calling for justice for the imprisoned group of 76 prisoners, mainly evangelical Christians, who have been unjustly imprisoned in Mexico for the past ten years on false charges of participating in the Acteal “massacre”.

MEXICO: Supreme Court recommends release of Acteal prisoners

The Mexican Supreme Court has recommended the release of 24 men (part of the group known as The Innocent of Acteal) who have been imprisoned for the past 10 years. The Court, in a review of their convictions, recommended release on two grounds:
1. Questionable evidence of possession of firearms (forensic tests have shown that the men could not have used the guns which were used in the attack)
2. Irregularities in the way in which the men were arrested and charged (many of the prisoners were hastily arrested and charged without explanation or translation of evidence into their Tzotzil language)

 

The long-awaited recommendation from the Supreme Court comes after the presentation of much evidence by lawyers for the men and a highly-publicised study by the respected commentator, Hector Aguilar Camin.

 

The decision received widespread coverage in the Mexican media and hopes are now rising that it will shortly lead to the innocent men being freed from prison. The case has now passed to President Felipe Calderon who has the authority to accept or reverse the Supreme Court recommendation.

However, news of the Supreme Court decision was met immediately with hostility by opponents of the men in Chiapas. Fray Bartolome de les Casas, a well-known human rights organisation linked to the Roman Catholic Church, issued a statement calling for the removal of the Supreme Court judges. They also reiterated their opposition to the men ever being released.

 

Back in Mexico City, stones have been thrown at the homes of the lawyers representing the men – indicating the depth of the opposition to their release.

 

The Innocent of Acteal are a group of 76 prisoners, mainly evangelical Christians, who have been unjustly imprisoned in Mexico for the past ten years on false charges of participating in the Acteal “massacre”. Forty five innocent people (mainly women and children) died in the violent gun battle in December 1997.

MEXICO: Slow progress for review of Acteal case

The Innocent of Acteal group of prisoners in Mexico (mainly evangelical Christians) have grown discouraged at the lack of progress in the Supreme Court review of their case which is officially the longest running criminal case in Mexican legal history.

 

Lawyers for the men were told in February that the Mexican state had decided to withdraw some of the more serious firearms charges against the men but by late April no action had been taken to implement this decision, fuelling suspicion that the initiative had stalled because of local opposition to the prisoners.

 

Supporters of the men contrasted this inaction with the release in April of 150 prisoners linked to the Zapatista guerrilla movement. The releases followed a hunger strike by some of these prisoners. However, the Acteal prisoners have been very encouraged by the large number of greetings cards that have been sent to them by Irish Christians.

In early May, Louis Hemmings and David Turner (CCFC) met the Mexican Ambassador to Ireland, Ms. Cecilia Jaber, to raise the continuing concerns about the Acteal case. They were told that the Supreme Court inquiries are ongoing and that the withdrawal of the firearms charges (previously announced) will take effect.

MEXICO: New hope for The Innocent of Acteal

There is renewed hope that the Mexican authorities may look again at the long-running Acteal case. The Innocent of Acteal are a group of 76 prisoners, mainly evangelical Christians, who have been unjustly imprisoned in Mexico for the past ten years on false charges of participating in the Acteal “massacre” in December 1997.

 

Two recent developments have given grounds for renewed hope. A team of four lawyers from Mexico City has taken over the defence case and in January, it was announced that the Mexican state had decided to withdraw some of the more serious charges against the men (Article 246 – relating to the possession and use of firearms permitted only for police and military use). Consequently, the lawyers are arguing that the men’s sentences of up to 36 years should be halved. If the men’s sentences were adjusted to terms of 18 years or less then they should be released as they have served 10 years in prison (good behaviour would entitle them to 50% remission on their sentences).

 

Meanwhile, H√©ctor Aguilar Cam√≠n (a respected writer, journalist and historian) has published a detailed study of the case based partially on primary sources. The study concludes that “there are tens of innocent people in prison who had nothing directly to do with the fact” of the Acteal massacre. His study, published in a national magazine, has again drawn public notice to the miscarriage of justice. The study raises many questions and urges the Mexican Supreme Court to undertake an entirely new investigation. (International Herald Tribune, Compass Direct)

Meanwhile, CCFC has launched a postcard campaign – encouraging supporters of the innocent men to send a postcard to the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon. The bilingual (Spanish/English) pre-printed postcard appeals to President Calderon to order a review of the Acteal case. Supplies of the cards may be ordered from info@ccfc.ie.

MEXICO: New Christian briefly jailed by village elders

Juan Mendez Mendez (aged 25) became a Christian on Easter Saturday at a village in the southern state of Chiapas and decided to join the Eagle’s Wing Pentecostal Church. Prior to his conversion, he had been a catechist in the traditional local church (which blends Roman Catholicism with native Mayan customs including animal sacrifice and the drinking of posh – a strong alcoholic drink). On Easter Sunday, leaders of the villagr of Past√© noticed his absence from the celebrations at the traditional church and summoned him for questioning.

“They said, ‘What do you mean that you’ve accepted Christ – you mean you don’t believe in our gods [Catholic saints]?’” Juan commented. “And I said, ‘Well, those were just apostles, and now I belong to Christ.’”

The village leaders threatened to jail Juan, and the following day they summoned him again after consulting with villagers, including other catechists. Juan verified to them that he had heard the gospel in another community and now wanted to become part of an Alas de Aguila (Eagle’s Wings) church in Pasté, he said.

The officials threatened to strip him and throw cold water on him in jail, Juan said. “You know what else we’re going to do?” one of them told the father of three pre-school children. “We’re going to beat you. We’re going to hit you.” After questioning Pasté Alas de Aguila pastor Jose Gomez Hernandez – confirming that Juan planned to attend his church, though he had not yet had the opportunity to do so – village officials decided to instead jail the new Christian.

Members of the Alas de Aguila church were allowed to visit him. He said he told one of them, “If I have to be a prisoner, I have no other alternative but to continue pressing forward.” He added that his wife, who put her trust in Christ along with Juan, “despite this situation has been very happy, and in her faith she wants to press forward also.” Juan was not hurt while in jail overnight and was released without further threats early the following morning.

Antonio Vasquez (another local pastor) said that in the municipality of Zinacatan, to which Pasté belongs, local traditionalist Catholic officials in some of the area’s 46 communities prohibit any form of evangelization. “There are still areas where they do not permit the gospel.They don’t want it, and they reject it to the point that there are some brothers who have been prisoners in other communities.” This incident highlights the suffering of evangelical Christians in Chiapas over the past 40 years. While there are now evangelical churches in many areas of the state, there remain areas under the control of village leaders who refuse to accept the principle of religious freedom. (Compass Direct)

MEXICO: A Visit to the Acteal Prisoners

Many wives and children of The Innocent of Acteal group in prisoners recently travelled to visit the men in Amate prison. The journey to the prison in the town of Cintilapa is long and arduous from their homes in the remote villages of the highlands of Chiapas, southern Mexico. There is no public transport available in that area so the families from the communities of C’anolal, Chimix, and Los Chorros hired minibuses and trucks (pictured right) to make the trip.

 

The Innocent of Acteal are a group of 76 prisoners, mainly evangelical Christians, who have been unjustly imprisoned in Mexico for the past eight years on false charges of participating in the Acteal “massacre” in December 1997.

“We held a worship service for the evangelical prisoners, since they are allowed use of the prison chapel from 10 a.m.-12 noon. Elder Manuel P√©rez Gutierrez led the service and Pastor Agustin preached. A moving portion of the worship service was the baptism of 3 prisoners and Bartolo‚Äôs wife. She had been praying and awaiting her husband‚Äôs acceptance of Christ as his Lord and Saviour before being baptised herself. She wanted them to be baptised together as a couple, as a symbol of their unity in Christ and as a Christian family. So it was especially fitting that both she and her daughter shared in the baptism with him, making it a very special moment for the entire family.”

 

During the announcement time following the service, we distributed the various postcards sent by CCFC friends from Ireland, and I think everyone present received at least one. The men were excited to know that their Irish brothers and sisters have been praying for them, and to receive the tangible reminder of CCFC member‚Äôs prayers for their release.”

 

There have been a number of recent developments in this complicated process which dealt with the men under three separate case headings.

 

Case 224 (24 prisoners) – Appeal denied in November 2005: Serving a 36-year sentence.

 

Case 223 (18 prisoners) – Government commission announced in June 2006 that nine prisoners will be released in next few months; the other nine prisoners in this group will have their sentences reduced. All 18 prisoners are to be moved to a lower security prison in San Cristobal de las Casas, much closer to their families.

 

Case 46 (34 prisoners) – In July 2006, they were sentenced to 25 years. Their previous 36-year sentence had been annulled in 2002 but they had remained in prison since. Although the men have already spent eight years in jail, it is understood that (under the Mexican legal system) this does not count as part of their 25 year sentence.

 

While all the legal channels have now been exhausted, campaigners for the innocent men have not ruled out the possibility of a pardon or amnesty from President Fox when he leaves office at the end of 2006.

MEXICO: Some Acteal Prisoners to be released?

There has been a breakthrough in the long-running legal battle to secure the release of the Innocent of Acteal prisoners in Mexico. Lawyers representing the men have convinced a government appointed commission in Mexico City to take action in the case of 19 of the 71 prisoners.

 

The commission has decided that nine of the prisoners (charged under case 223/97) will be released over the next three to six months while ten more will have their 25 year sentences reduced. All 19 prisoners are to be moved to a lower security prison in San Cristobal de las Casas – much closer to their families.

 

The Innocent of Acteal are a group of 71 prisoners, mainly evangelical Christians, who have been unjustly imprisoned in Mexico for the past eight years on false charges of participating in the Acteal massacre.

The men imprisoned for the 1997 murders were tried in three groups (cases). One group (case 224) had their appeal denied on November 30, 2005. A reliable source privately acknowledged there was clear evidence of the innocence of 10 prisoners in this group of 19 prisoners (case 223), but that the judge ruled against them anyway for unknown reasons. A ruling on the appeal of the third group of 39 Christian prisoners (case 46) is expected soon. (Open Doors)

 

This development has been welcomed by supporters of the innocent men who have been campaigning for their release. However, there are concerns that groups in Chiapas opposed to the evangelicals will seek to block the men’s release.

MEXICO: Acteal prisoners given “official” sentences

Last week, The Innocent of Acteal group of prisoners (including Hilario Guzman Luna pictured right) were officially sentenced to 25 years in prison – after the long appeal and review process came to an end.

 

While these terms are a reduction from their previously announced sentences of 36 years, the eight years which they have already served while awaiting this verdict do not count as part of the sentence under Mexico’s legal system.

 

The group of 71 prisoners, mainly evangelical Christians, has been unjustly imprisoned in Mexico for the past eight years on false charges.

The men are understandably very discouraged especially as it is widely believed that political pressure has led to the confirmation of the sentences. Most of the men range in age from 40 – 72 years of age and many now expect to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

There is great concern about the health of one of the oldest prisoners, Hilario Guzman Luna (aged 72). Hilario has been diagnosed with diabetes as well as several other illnesses. He was given some treatment in an outside hospital but has now been returned to prison to serve his sentence. Hilario needs regular dialysis treatment and it is feared that he will not receive proper treatment in the limited facilities in Amate prison. Without intervention, his wife, Catarina, and theit five adult children are concerned that Hilario will soon die in prison – for a crime which he did not commit .