Arrest of Martín Barrios Hernández, human rights defender

Re: Arrest of Martín Barrios Hernández, human rights defender

To: Lic. Mario Marin Torres, Gobernado del Estado de Puebla and others

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier, LRWC Mexico Monitor

Date: 2006-01-04

I write to express LRWC’s serious concern about the arrest of, and proceedings against, Mr. Martin Barrios Hernández, who is coordinator of Comisión de Derechos Humanos y Laborales del Valle de Tehuacán. LRWC understands that Mr. Barrios was arrested on December 29, 2005 on charges of blackmail brought by Tehuacan business owner Lucio Gil Zarate. Mr. Barrios is being held without bail. LRWC further understands that a judge is due to decide after 4 pm today whether the prosecution against Mr. Barrios will proceed.

LRWC urges the State of Puebla to carefully examine Mr. Barrios’s situation and take such action as will ensure justice in his case. In LRWC’s respectful view, the facts of Mr. Barrios’s case suggest that the charges against him may be dubious and motivated by factors extraneous to the law.

LRWC is informed that, on December 16, 2005, Mr. Gil filed blackmail charges against Mr. Barrios with the a division of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Puebla that normally deals with kidnapping charges. Mr. Barrios was not informed of the charges until he was arrested on December 29th by the intelligence division of the Puebla state police at his home in Tehuacan, transported to Puebla, and confined in a state prison.

LRWC is not aware of the specific allegations made in the charges. LRWC is aware that Mr. Barrios denies the charges.

LRWC notes that in recent months, Mr. Barrios and the Comisión de Derechos Humanos y Laborales del Valle de Tehuacán have been providing advice and assistance to workers at a textile plant owned by Mr. Gil, the “Calidad de Confecciones”. In particular, the Comisión de Derechos Humanos y Laborales del Valle de Tehuacán helped the workers file a labour complaint before a Conciliation and Arbitration Board. The complaint alleged violations of the workers’ rights. An agreement to resolve the complaint was apparently concluded on November 10, 2005, but Mr. Gil allegedly failed to comply with the settlement agreement. On November 22, 2005, Mr. Gil fired the 163 workers who took part in the original complaint. In response, the affected workers picketed outside the Conciliation and Arbitration Board, the FROC-CROC and Mr. Gil’s home.

LRWC is also informed that maquila owners in Tehuacan have recently publicly accused Mr. Barrios and the Comisión de Derechos Humanos y Laborales del Valle de Tehuacán of organizing protests and strikes to discourage foreign investment as a way to blackmail factory owners.

Against the backdrop of the foregoing facts, LRWC has serious concerns about the bona fides and legal foundations of the charges against Mr. Barrios. LRWC understands that blackmail is considered a serious crime in Puebla, carrying a sentence of 2 to 10 years. We also understand that bail is not available to a person charged with blackmail. It seems to us that the charges against Mr. Barrios may have been improperly brought. LRWC respectfully submits that the state of Puebla should have serious reservations about imperiling the liberty of an individual in these circumstances.

However, if the prosecution against Mr. Barrios proceeds, and Mr. Barrios remains in custody, LRWC calls upon you to ensure that the judicial proceedings are conducted according to internationally-recognized standards for fair trials. Standards for fair trials and set out and guaranteed by Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the last of which provides:

1. Every person has the right to a hearing, with due guarantees and within a reasonable time, by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal, previously established by law, in the substantiation of any accusation of a criminal nature made against him or for the determination of his rights and obligations of a civil, labor, fiscal, or any other nature.

2. Every person accused of a criminal offense has the right to be presumed innocent so long as his guilt has not been proven according to law. During the proceedings, every person is entitled, with full equality, to the following minimum guarantees:
a. the right of the accused to be assisted without charge by a translator or interpreter, if he does not understand or does not speak the language of the tribunal or court;
b. prior notification in detail to the accused of the charges against him;
c. adequate time and means for the preparation of his defense;
d. the right of the accused to defend himself personally or to be assisted by legal counsel of his own choosing, and to communicate freely and privately with his counsel;
e. the inalienable right to be assisted by counsel provided by the state, paid or not as the domestic law provides, if the accused does not defend himself personally or engage his own counsel within the time period established by law;
f. the right of the defense to examine witnesses present in the court and to obtain the appearance, as witnesses, of experts or other persons who may throw light on the facts;
g. the right not to be compelled to be a witness against himself or to plead guilty; and
h. the right to appeal the judgment to a higher court.
3. A confession of guilt by the accused shall be valid only if it is made without coercion of any kind.

4. An accused person acquitted by a nonappealable judgment shall not be subjected to a new trial for the same cause.

5. Criminal proceedings shall be public, except insofar as may be necessary to protect the interests of justice.

LRWC is mindful that Article 133 of the Mexican Constitution provides that international treaties ratified by Mexico prevail as the supreme law of the country.

In conclusion, we urge you to take considered action with respect to Mr. Barrios’s case. Kindly advise LRWC of your response, in writing, at the earliest convenience.