Mr. Felipe Arreaga Sanchez, a prominent Mexican Environmentalist, has been acquitted of murder by the Guerrero State court, and was released on September 15, 2005. Mr. Arreaga has played a leading role in peaceful protests against excessive and illegal logging of forests in Petatlan, Guerrero State.
This verdict was made possible by the efforts of his lawyers from the local human rights organization, Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña “Tlachinollan” (“Tlachinollan” La Montaña Human Rights Centre), along with national and international calls for Mr. Arreaga’s release. After his release, Mr. Arreaga told the media that he would continue to defend the environment and thanked national and international human rights organizations for their support.
Felipe Arreaga had spent more than 10 months in prison in Zihuatanejo, in Guerrero State, accused of the murder of Abel Bautista Guillén, the son of a local “cacique” (local political boss), which was committed in 1998. Authorities only began forensic and crime scene investigations in 2000 and the first statements from witnesses were taken at that time. The case was then archived until around May 2004, when an arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Arreaga. He has been in custody since then, and was initially held in substandard conditions, with 14 other individuals in a cell built to hold six. He was also forced to withstand the harsh conditions of incarceration with a grave lesion on his cerebral column.
Evidence suggests that the case against Mr. Arreaga was fabricated as a reprisal for his role in protests against the excessive and illegal logging of forests in Petatlan, Guerrero State. His fight in defense of the forests appears to have had negative effects on the economic interests of those who gain from the excessive logging. Local caciques are believed responsible for running these logging operations. During the trial, several factors raise serious questions about the fairness of the proceedings:
1 one of the purported eyewitnesses revoked their testimony in February 2005 and blamed the cacique and a police officer for pressuring them to make a false accusation;
2 another witness against Mr. Arreaga cannot be found and appears to be trying to avoid questioning and cross-examination;
3 during the arraignment in November 2004, three witnesses testified that Mr. Arreaga was at a wedding celebration at the time of Mr. Guillén’s death, three hours away from the murder site. The same witnesses also testified that Mr. Arreaga was receiving ongoing medical treatment for a hip/back injury at the time of the murder; and
4 the prosecution’s case is partially based on the allegation that Mr. Arreaga is a “known criminal”. Mr. Arreaga’s character witnesses refute this, and LRWC’s independent research has been unable to find any evidence that Mr. Arreaga has a criminal record or been engaged in criminal activities.
Mr. Arreaga was a close colleague of Digna Ochoa, internationally known human rights lawyer, found shot dead in her Mexico City office on 19 October 2001. Digna Ochoa represented many clients and causes unpopular with the Mexican military, government, landowners, and foreign corporations. Ms. Ochoa had been the target of threats, assaults, and attempts on her life since 1996. She is believed to have been assassinated because of her work as a lawyer including her representation of ecologists in Guerrero.
Fourteen other former leaders of the Organización Campesina Ecologista de la Sierra de Petatlan (OCESP), the Peasant Environmentalist Organization of the Sierra de Petatlan, still face arrest warrants in connection with the same case. In addition, the OCESP has been deemed a ‘criminal organization’, although there appears to be no evidence to support this charge. LRWC fears that the other fourteen activists are being targeted in the same manner as that faced by Mr. Arreaga, in order to deter environmental activism in the region.
During his trial, one of the men responsible for the prosecution reportedly threatened reprisals against Felipe Arreaga and his family if the environmental activist was not convicted. LRWC fears that Mr. Arreaga, his family and other environmentalists in the region are still in danger. In addition, there does not appear to be any substantial advance in the investigation into the attack against another environmental activist, Albertano Peñalosa, and his family in May.
Letter written April 4, 2005
Letter written June 10, 2005
Letter written September 21, 2005