Human rights up close and personal
rights, freedoms and repression |
Monday November 23, 2009 15:48 by Sarah C - Independent Witness
A visit to Amnesty prisoner of conscience Raul Hernandez in Mexi
Raul with some of the Cards from Ireland
At the invitation of Guerrero based ´Tlachinollan Human Rights Centre´ I had the inspiring opportunity to witness an historic event last Wed (18th nov 2009): Two indigenous women, both former Amnesty International prisoners of conscience left their communities once more to make a trip to a Mexican Jail. This time however instead of being accompanied by their arresting officers, they went along with a group of local, national and international human rights organisations to make a solidarity visit to another indigenous activist and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Raul Hernandez.
More info on Raul | More info on Jacinta | More Info on Obtelia | More Info on Magdalena
Raul, who is a member of OPIM ( Organisation of the Me´ Phaa indigenous People), has been detained in Ayutla de Los Libros prison in the Costa Chica area of the troubled southern state Guerrero, for over 18 months. He was charged with murder, on the evidence of two witnesses who placed him at the scene, testimony of many others who stated that in fact he was elsewhere at the time of the murder was discarded. There is no doubt in the minds of any of his community, or indeed the very credible organisations that have rallied in his support, that Raul´s conviction was politically motivated. In court proceedings in recent days the testimonies upon which he was convicted have been re-examined and his legal team, from Tlachinollan, are hopeful that they may overturn his sentence and seek redress for the miscarraige of justice that has kept him away from his family and his community for over a year and a half at this stage. Rual however, remains in the small stark prison and had been reported as losing hope that he would be released.
Several organisations including OPIM, Tlachinollan, Amnesty International and the Miguel Augustin Proh Human Rights centre arranged last wednesday´s high profile visit to Ayutla with the intention of giving him hope and raising the profile of his situation. On the day of the visit we were accompanied by several television reporters and journalists and had at the request of Amnesty Mexico, the dubious blessing of an armed accompaniment of about eight Federal Police.
The most inspiring members of our delegation however were the two former prisoners, Jacinta Francisco Marcial and Magdalena Garcia Duran who travelled to remote Ayutla to show their support for Raul.
Jacinta Francisco Marcial is a 56 year old Otomi indigenous woman from Queretaro state and mother of six who was released in October this year, after having served three years of pre trial detention, on the incredible charge of having kidnapped six federal agents at a protest in 2006.
Magdelena, an indigenous Mazahua, and also mother of six was the recipient of a violent beating at the time of her arrest, according to Amnesty she was repeatedly kicked by a group of Police officers and then forced to lie on top of a group of others who were also arrested. She was imprisoned for 18 months as a result of the disturbances at Atenco in 2006 and with the help of Amnesty and a Mexican Legal organisation she was eventually freed.
Both of these women were received in Ayutla de los Libros jail, by Raul himself, who had been allowed into a front office section of the prison for the high profile visit and by another woman activist, OPIM leader Obtelia Eugenia Manuel. The prison currently houses approximately forty inmates and may well be the hottest place on the planet, Raul, despite being from the area was sweating profusely during the whole encounter and had reportedly not been in good health.
Despite the fact that several officials (and one tourist - me !) all made presentations and photo shoots with Raul for the benefit of the assembled media, the exchanges between Raul and the two ex prisoners were by far the most emotional and inspiring.
Both women were resplendent in traditional dress as you will see from the accompanying pictures. Jacinta, who I had the pleasure of speaking to at length, was overcome by the actions in defence of their people that had led to Raul and Magdalena´s convictions, she maintained that she had not ever denounced or struggled against oppression until she found herself accused and incarcerated and was quite upset. Despite having maintained her dignity and courage over three years in Mexico´s harsh prison system, during which time she did not understand that charges made against her, and had no understanding of the legal system nor any spoken Spanish she insisted that she was not a brave woman and was misplaced there alongside Magdalena, Raul and Eugenia who have all been on the receiving end of death threats, attacks and violence as a result of their actions in defence of their respective communities. It will come as no surprise to you that I certainly did not agree with her self perception, Jacinta who was only released two months ago had, that day traveled across three states to show very public solidarity with Raul in a country that continues to persecute those indigenous who dare to raise their heads above the parapet.
Magdalena, a born activist, on the other hand forcefully denounced Raul´s situation to the assembled media and had no hesitation in allocating blame for the assortment of miscarriages of justice that were on display to the federal Government, security forces and to local corrupt mafia type political systems. As everyone gathered to leave the jail she led all those assembled in a rallying cry for Rual´s benefit that began with the traditional ´the people united will never be defeated´went on to ´free all political prisoners´ and ended with Zapata lives. By the end we could hear supportive noises from the off limits cells areas and the prison guards were becoming quite agitated.
I did not have much opportunity to converse with Raul other than to offer him best wishes from all the Irish activists who have been campaigning on his behalf and to present him with the collection of cards I had brought with me from Galway and from the Amnesty Staff in Dublin, he was quite overcome with all the activity and I felt glad when the thirty or so of us who were assembled in the jails concrete reception area left him to visit in peace with his wife.
After the prison visit we were all received in OPIM´s headquarters in Ayutla, the headquarters is on a back street behind a high wall and it consists of a dark earth floored roofeds communal cooking, sleeping and sitting area and a garden with huge trees (shade at last) under which we were all invited to sit in a circle. This meeting was strangely ceremonial, Abel, the fiftyish director of Tlachinollan, began proceedings by thanking OPIM for hosting us and reminding everyone that we are as the whole day demonstrated, involved in the same struggle for human rights. Following this, an indigenous woman made a lenghty speech in her native tongue that was translated by Obtelia, Opims leader. The gist of this was that the Me´Phaa were hounoured by the visit and support from the two visiting women,and that she herself,who was the mother of one of those women raped by soldiers( a long running case that Tlachinollans legal team have taken as far as the Inter American court of human rights) have not yet been held to account welcomed their support of Raul as support for all of them.
Orlando Manzanares, one of the four others who was originally detained with Raul, spoke next welcoming everyone, thanking them and commenting on the presence of so many determined women.
Several others spoke and guests and hosts responded to each other in turn, those rest of us assembled could only look on with admiration for bravery and dignity of those assembled despite the obstacles they continue to face.
Jacinta Francisco Marcial and her husband
Magdelena and Jacinta meeting the mother of the rape victim also OPIM at OPIMS Headquarters.
OPIM men at the meeting in their headquarters, Jane Jones from Tlachinollan in the foreground and two Peace Brigades accompaniers who are delegated to OPIM on the far right
L to R, Abel, director of Tlachinollan Rights Centre, Obtilia Eugenia leader of OPIM, Jacinta, Raul Hernandez and Magdelena being interviewed inside the jail
Magdalena Garcia Duran (in a lovely dress)