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Oaxacan political prisoners granted mandatory pretrial detention hearing

A recent ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights should compel the judge to order the prisoners’ release, supporters said.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A group of Oaxacan men incarcerated for nearly nine years on what they say are fabricated murder charges will finally get their day in court next week, their friends and family announced Tuesday. 

The seven men, whose lawyers and families call political prisoners, have been jailed under Mexico’s mandatory pretrial detention system for far longer than the two-year limit to the precautionary measure mandated by the country’s Constitution. Five of them have been locked up since December 2014. 

“After nine years of mandatory pretrial detention without a conviction for the majority of the political prisoners of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, in Oaxaca, the minimum right that belongs to them must be the cessation of the preventative detention,” said Javier Hernández García, a lawyer who expressed solidarity with the prisoners but is not representing them, during a press conference Wednesday. 

The men are represented by Mexico’s federal public defenders office. Their hearing is set for the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 18, in a state court in Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca. 

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in January that Mexico’s mandatory pretrial detention system violates human rights. The court was established by the American Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty to which Mexico is signatory. 

This ruling and Mexico’s signing of the treaty obligate the judges in Monday’s hearing to remove the mandatory pretrial detention measure from the men and release them from prison, according to Argelia Betanzos, daughter of political prisoner Jaime Betanzos, who has been in jail since December 2014. 

“In order to comply with the convention, authorities at all levels of government in Mexico — not just judicial, but also administrative — must comply with the precedents set in the Inter-American Court,” Betanzos at Tuesday’s press conference. 

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights did not respond to a request for comment.

Civil society organizations and the prisoners themselves had requested a hearing to change their precautionary measure status three other times this year, twice in April and once in May, Betanzos said. Those requests were denied. 

Julia (left) and Paula, members of the Eloxochitlán self-defense group, speak at a press conference in Mexico City on Sept. 12, 2023. They did not give their last names out of concerns for their safety. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

“The organized struggle of women, of their families, national and international solidarity and the media have finally managed to get this hearing so that a judge can release them from this mechanism,” said Betanzos. 

She presented two writs of amparo — similar to habeas corpus in U.S. law — granted by a federal judge in the neighboring state of Veracruz which assert that the men should be released. They have been granted at least 11 more, she said. Her father and the others remain in prison because of what she called Oaxaca’s “rotten” judicial and political institution, she said.

Betanzos accused Oaxaca’s Secretary of Women and Eloxochitlán native Elisa Zepeda of fabricating the charges against the prisoners, claiming that her version of events is impossible to corroborate. 

Most notably, Zepeda claimed to identify as many as 35 people during the December 2014 skirmish that led to the detentions while she was face down on the ground being beaten. 

“You’re face down and still you can say that you’re able to identify 35 people by their full names?” Betanzos said. “A federal judge examined that and determined it was not possible.”

The “fundamental point” found by the judges who issued the writs of amparo, Betanzos said, is the fact that Zepeda made generalized accusations against dozens of people, “not the individualized conduct of each person accused.”

A spokesperson for Zepeda did not respond to a request for comment.

Betanzos also denounced the inaction of Oaxaca Governor Salomón Jara Cruz and corruption on the part of Eduardo Pinacho Sánchez, head of the Oaxaca state judiciary, as contributing factors for the prisoners’ extended and unlawful detentions. 

A spokesperson for Jara Cruz declined to comment on the matter. Pinacho Suárez did not respond to a request for comment. 

Tuesday’s press conference included a statement from two women who are members of a local self-defense group that advocates for the release of the prisoners and the repeal of arrest warrants for dozens of other community members. Paula and Julia, who preferred not to give their last names due to safety reasons, are relatives of two of the political prisoners. 

They addressed reporters with bandanas over their faces to hide their identities. Julia gave a statement in Spanish after Paula spoke in their native Mazatec. 

“Nine years of this preventative measure are excessive,” Julia said, noting that their family members remain in jail despite changes in government and political parties. “What are we to the government? Just merchandise. What else can we expect from them? That’s why we’re here asking for support to continue demanding their release, demanding justice, because our difficult situation has not come to an end.”

The five men who have been imprisoned since December 2014 are Jaime Betanzos Fuentes, Herminio Monfil Avedaño, Alfredo Bolaños Pacheco, Fernando Gavito Martínez and Francisco Durán Ortiz. Marcelino Miramón and Paul Reyes Rosete, also implicated in the same charges from the December 2014 skirmish, were arrested this past May.

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Categories:Criminal, International, Law

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