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Military officers arrested in Ayotzinapa case demand resignation of truth commission chair

Lawyers for the officers claim that the screenshots of text messages used to reveal links between their clients and organized crime during the massacre show clear signs of fabrication.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Defense attorneys for four military officers arrested in relation to the disappearance and murder of 43 students in 2014 launched a counterattack Tuesday, demanding the resignation of the head of the truth commission charged with investigating the case.

Lawyers Alejandro Robledo and César Omar González announced in a press conference that they had filed a complaint with the federal attorney general’s office (FGR), accusing truth commission chair Alejandro Encinas of fabricating the commission’s version of events in order to score political points.

“In his attempt to obtain quick and visible results, Undersecretary Encinas sidelined his collaborators by presenting behind their backs a report lacking rigor, prepared with questionable — not to say outright falsified — evidence, and endangering the future of the investigation and the hopes of the students’ families and society’s trust,” said González. 

He and Robledo are representing Gen. José Rodríguez Pérez, Capt. José Martínez Crespo, 2nd Lt. Fabián Alejandro Pirita Ochoa and Sgt. Eduardo Mota Esquivel for their suspected role in the disappearance and killing of the 43 students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college on September 26, 2014.

Encinas presented the findings of the truth commission’s investigation in August, denouncing the massacre as a crime of the state. As basis for its findings, the commission’s report included over 460 screenshots of WhatsApp messages it claimed reveal that state and military actors colluded with drug traffickers to carry out the massacre.

Much of that report was redacted, but a leak of its unedited version caused a stir in September, when it revealed connections between the massacre and the highest levels of government, with supposed evidence that former President Enrique Peña Nieto had personally taken part in the cover-up. 

The validity of the report, however, was put in serious doubt in October after Encinas told The New York Times that “a very important percentage” of the evidence used in it was unverifiable. The Times also reported to have heard audio recordings of Encinas offering one of the most wanted suspects in the case immunity from prosecution in exchange for information. 

González and Robeldo said Tuesday that features such as the shape of the text bubbles, the time formats and the cutting of the words displayed irregularities that put their veracity in doubt. They also pointed out that the screenshots include the blue double checkmark annotations that notify that a message has been read, but that these were not yet a feature of WhatsApp at the time the texts were allegedly sent. 

Current students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers' college chant as they march during their monthly protest on Aug. 26, 2022. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

Although their complaint is officially against whoever is responsible for the disappearance of the 43 students, they called for the resignation of Encinas, alluding to the recent resignation of the former head of the FGR’s Special Investigation and Litigation Unit for the Ayotzinapa case Omar Gómez Trejo in September. 

Neither Encinas nor the truth commission immediately responded to Courthouse News’ request for comment. 

Despite their allegations of politicking on the part of the truth commission, the lawyers’ complaint was basically a “media coup,” according to security analyst David Saucedo.

“Encinas will stay in his post,” said Saucedo. “They’re trying to wear him down so that he doesn’t launch more attacks on the army.”

The human rights organization Centro Prodh, which manages the media and legal landscape for the families of the victims, denounced the defense’s actions Tuesday.

“With the consent of their commanding officers, soldiers accused in Ayotzinapa seek to confuse,” the organization said in a statement posted to Twitter. “The inability to verify parts of the [commission’s] report does not detract from the evidence of the accusation of collusion between drug traffickers and the [army]. The campaign against the case comes from the military sector, not human rights organizations.”

Opposition Senator Kenia López Rabadán Monday accused President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of lying about the Ayotzinapa case in order to fulfill his campaign promise to get to the bottom of the massacre.

“The federal government has systematically lied about this tragedy,” she said. “During these four years of government, there has been an accumulation of stumbles, lies and concealment of information by the Morena party administration.”

For his part, López Obrador defended the truth commission report in his morning press conference Tuesday, stating that his administration has been more transparent than those of his predecessors.

“And now they want us to fail and they thought that we were going to hide things,” he said. “Well, no, because all of those involved, all the public servants, according to the report, have an arrest warrant or are already under arrest.”

Former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam was arrested and indicted on charges of torture, enforced disappearance and crimes against the administration of justice in August. Gen. Rodríguez Pérez became the highest ranking military official to be arrested in the case in September. The vast majority of the 83 arrest warrants issued after Encinas presented the report in August, however, remain unexecuted.

“And the investigation is going to continue and there is not going to be impunity, and we’re going to keep arguing,” said López Obrador.

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