October 24th, 2008: Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the Mexican federal justice ministry’s response to a recent recommendation by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) regarding the October 2006 fatal shooting of US cameraman Brad Will of the Indymedia agency in the southern city of Oaxaca (see 2 October release).
Not only has the ministry ignored the serious irregularities in the Will murder investigation but, on 22 October, a judge announced the indictment and imminent trial of three supporters of the grass-roots Popular Assembly of Oaxaca Peoples (APPO), two of whom have been freed on bail. Arrest orders were also issued for seven witnesses on a charge concealing a crime. Will was covering the APPO’s demonstrations against the Oaxaca state government at the time of his death.
“This is an obvious political maneuver that could result in a major legal scandal two years after Will’s murder,” Reporters Without Borders said. “After an abruptly terminated local investigation solely designed to absolve Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz and his bodyguards of any responsibility in Will’s death, the federal justice ministry is now making a crude attempt to save the Oaxaca authorities by disowning the CNDH’s recommendation.
“Does the ministry really think this will help the fight against impunity? Is there no alternative to impunity and injustice? The probable outcome of this case recalls the way Mexico’s supreme court cleared Puebla state governor Mario Marín of violating the rights of freelance journalist Lydia Cacho (see 30 November 2007 release).
“The serious lapses in the investigation into Will’s death also recall those in the investigation into the March 2004 murder of newspaper editor Roberto Mora García in Nuevo Laredo, in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Reporters Without Borders participated in the En Memoria commission delegation that visited Tamaulipas and published its findings today. They do not encourage optimism.”
CNDH recommendation 50/2008, which was sent to the federal justice ministry and the Oaxaca state government on 26 September, clearly points to Governor Ruiz’s allies in Will’s murder on 27 October 2006, at the peak of a grave political and social crisis that left a toll of 18 dead and more than 300 injured.
After initially condemning the CNDH recommendation, the Oaxaca government changed its mind on 16 October. The next day, the federal justice ministry unexpectedly announced that two former APPO activists, Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno and Octavio Pérez Pérez, had been arrested for “murder” and “complicity” respectively and would soon appear on court. Pérez was freed on bail a few days later.
Seven other APPO members are targeted by the prosecution. Reporters Without Borders shares the concerns about these arrests that have has been voiced by human rights groups.
The investigative procedures – fake evidence, doctored autopsy and framing of likely suspects – condemned by the CNDH in the Will case resemble those adopted after the murder of El Mañana editor Roberto Mora in Nuevo Laredo on 19 March 2004. Several of the organizations in the En Memoria commission, including Reporters Without Borders, conducted a new fact-finding visit to Tamaulipas on 25-25 August and presented their findings today in Mexico City.
The delegation’s report says the authorities were determined to rule out Mora’s work as a newspaper editor as a possible motive for the murder although he had been investigating sensitive subjects in a region heavily influenced by the Gulf Cartel’s drug trafficking.
The report also highlights the speed with which prosecutors ended the investigation by charging the two men who lived above Mora’s apartment – Mario Medina Vázquez, 23, and his companion, Hiram Oliveros Ortiz, 28 – with the murder. Medina was himself murdered in prison on 13 May 2004. Oliveros is still held.
Reporters Without Borders calls on the local and federal authorities to stick to the facts and evidence in both of these cases, to heed the CNDH’s observations, and to act accordingly, acknowledging the mistakes that have been made and conducting effective investigations that leave no room for impunity.