06 Mar 2002
New death threats against Mexican human rights def

A human rights defender in Mexico has been subjected to death threats. 1 March Mr Samuel Alfonso Castellanos, an employee of ACAT-Oaxaca, received a letter telling that he would be killed if he didn't withdraw from a case, where he has been acting as a solicitor for 16 victims of torture. 

His clients had been wrongfully arrested and allegedly by the Mexican authorities and charged with responsibility for the Agua Fria massacre, which took place several years ago. The letter also contains insults against Ms Beatriz Casas Arellanas, a volunteer with ACAT-Oaxaca and against two persons from another organisation. ACAT-Oaxaca is a Mexican partner-organisation of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).

The IRCT is deeply concerned about the death threats. More than 150 incidents of harassment of human rights defenders have been documented in Mexico, and the lawyer Digna Ochoa y Plácido was murdered after receiving death threats.

The Secretary-General of the IRCT, Dr. Jens Modvig, says:

"I would like to express my grave concern about the safety of Mr. Castelanos. I urge the Mexican authorities to take all necessary steps to guarantee the security and physical integrity of Mr Castellanos and Ms Arellanas. Through our collaboration with the Mexican authorities on the technical co-operation programme between the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Mexican Government we know that the political will exists to protect human rights defenders. I urge the federal and state authorities to carry out an immediate investigation into this matter."

Mr Castellanos and Ms Arellanas took up the cases of the 16 detainees because there were testimonies about them being subjected to torture in detention. Soon after taking up the case, 6 of the 16 were granted conditional release.

On 24 February, five days before the death threats were received, the remaining 10 detainees were granted 'amparo', i.e. an exoneration from criminal responsibility for the charges that had been brought against them. On 26 February, Mr Castellano made a press statement declaring that the 'amparos' granted were not sufficient due to the large number of irregularities in the case and the violations of their rights that had taken place. He said further that he was calling for the prompt release of those 10 detainees who remain in custody.

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