Chiapas court sentences the “Cancuc 5” to 25 years in prison

Bulletin No. 10
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
May 17, 2023

The judicial power of the state of Chiapas condemns the five indigenous Tseltals from San Juan Cancuc to 25 years in prison for defending their territory

The criminalization of indigenous people, a constant issue in Chiapas

From this Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center, we denounce the criminalization of defenders of territory. The Chiapas government once again acts with impunity. Today, May 17, 2023, the Judicial Branch of the State of Chiapas found guilty Manuel Sántiz Cruz [1[, Juan Velasco Aguilar, Agustín Pérez Velasco, Martín Pérez Domínguez and Agustín Pérez Domínguez, five indigenous community defenders, of the Tseltal Maya people of San Juan Cancuc, arbitrarily deprived of their freedom for defending their territory, who were sentenced to 25 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.

To establish the sentence, the judge used legal criteria from 1993, that is, criteria from more than thirty years ago, despite all the legal reforms that have occurred in Mexico that should guarantee human rights. The judge gave probative value to the statements of the municipal police, when they should have been the first to be investigated, since the death occurred in the patrol car of the San Juan Cancuc municipal police. Another notorious fact was that he gave value to an altered death certificate.

On May 3, 2023, the five Indigenous Tseltals gave their statement before the Judge, where they mentioned that three of them were arbitrarily detained on May 29, 2022, in San Juan Cancuc, through a joint operation of the Municipal Police, the National Guard and the Mexican Army, to later be handed over to the Indigenous Justice Prosecutor’s Office, who first fabricated the crime of drug possession and then involved them in the homicide for which they were sentenced.

The last two stated that they were arbitrarily detained by members of the Ministry of Security and Citizen Protection and the Specialized Police on June 1, 2022, outside the State Center for Social Reintegration of Sentenced No. 5 (CERSS No. 5) of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, when they visited their compañeros and in retaliation for having witnessed the operation and arbitrary deprivation of liberty.  None of these arbitrary elements were taken into account, so once again they give evidence of the constant action of criminalization towards the native peoples who defend the territory.

Top part of the sign reads: “The Native Peoples Reject the SCLC-Palenque Highway.” The bottom part says: “No to the installation of the National Guard barracks.” It is this protest against the highway mega-project and the military installation to protect it that led to the arrest, falsification of crimes and sentencing.

This case is part of a model of complicity that exists between municipal, state and federal authorities, along with judges and prosecutors to manufacture guilt and keep innocent people in prison, so the lack of access to justice is a burden of the Mexican legal system.

Frayba demands freedom and justice for the five indigenous Tseltals of San Juan Cancuc, since we have fully documented the existence of serious human rights violations, including due process of law, noting the ineffectiveness of the investigations of the State Attorney General’s Office, which are devoid of legal value, in addition to the partiality of the Judiciary that acted ignoring the clear evidence of the arbitrary deprivations of liberty, and that the five defenders of territory were targeted. Finally, we refer to the arguments of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which mentions that widespread or systematic imprisonment or other serious deprivation of liberty in violation of the norms of international law may constitute crimes against humanity. [2]

[1] Manuel Sántiz Cruz “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.” Click here to see article on the arrests.

[2] Opinion number 43/2021 of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, adopted on September 10, 2021, regarding Adrián Gómez, Germán López, Abrahám López, Juan de la Cruz and Marcelino Ruiz (Mexico).

Originally Published in Spanish by Frayba, Wednesday, May 17, 2023, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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