They arrest five indigenous defenders of their territory, organizations demand their release

They put up hand-painted signs that read: “The Native peoples reject the SCLC – Palenque highway.” Photo: MODEVITE.

By: Yessica Morales

The Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas together with the Parish of San Juan Evangelista in San Juan Cancuc and the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba), expressed their concern over the arrest and criminalization of Manuel Sántiz Cruz, human rights defender, president of the team of promoters of the Parish and servant of the Diocese of San Cristóbal. And, at the same time, over the arrest of four other people.

That said, San Juan Cancuc parish, together with the Diocese, accompany processes of defense of Mother Earth, training servants committed to peace, reconciliation and the search for justice. They indicated that on several occasions they have spoken out against projects of death, destruction and violence.

At the same time, they pointed out that Sántiz Cruz, is an indigenous Tseltal man and, since its foundation in 2016, has been president of the San Juan Evangelista Human Rights Committee, which promotes actions around defense of territory against construction of the highway stretch between San Cristóbal de Las Casas and Palenque. They are also opposed to the presence of the National Guard (GN, Guardia Nacional) in the municipality, as well as against the sale of alcohol and drugs in the municipal seat.

At the same time, they emphasized that the human rights defender was detained on May 29 around 7:00 am by the Municipal Police and the National Guard, without an arrest warrant (arbitrarily), in the Abajo (C’ani’) neighborhood of the town of San Juan Cancuc, the municipal seat.

As if that were not enough, he was arrested together with two more people: Agustín Pérez Domínguez and Juan Velasco Aguilar; the three men were taken to San Cristóbal de Las Casas and placed at the disposal of the Indigenous Justice Prosecutor’s Office, until May 30, around 10:00 am.

Manuel Sántiz Cruz

He was illegally detained for more than 24 hours, before charges were filed for alleged possession of marijuana. He was released on May 31 around 9:00 pm, the protesters said. [1]

However, after his release, members of the state police immediately arrested him, this time with an arrest warrant, for the alleged crime of intentional homicide of a Cancuc municipal police officer. He was taken to the Control Court at the State Center for Social Reinsertion for those Sentenced (CERSS) No. 5.

On June 1, family members of the detainees and members of the Frayba, were in the Control Court. Two more people were arrested in this place: Agustín Pérez Velasco and Martín Pérez Domínguez, who testified in favor of the defender. In addition, state police threatened and harassed the Frayba lawyers and Swefor [2] international observers.

In addition, they pointed out that servants of the San Juan Evangelista parish and the de Derechos Human Rights Committee have made visible the actions in violation of human rights of the municipal president and the municipal police, as well as their opposition to the National Guard’s presence in the municipality.

In view of the foregoing, they demanded from the State government the immediate release of those detained in San Juan Cancuc municipality and to stop criminalizing human rights defenders in Chiapas municipalities.

San Juan Evangelista Church in San Juan Cancuc. Photo: Chiapas Paralelo.

Translator’s Notes:

[1] According to Frontline Defenders, Sántíz Cruz was not notified of the charges against him and had no access to a translator or lawyer for the 24 hours when he was first detained.

[2] The Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation is known as SweFor, a human rights organization, which maintains an office and staff in Chiapas.

Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo, June 1, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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